– Ryan Francis, Law Student, William Mitchell Law School


Is he alive? Not really, but the Manhattan Second District Court recently referenced the Frankenstein monster in The Football Ass’n Premiere League Ltd. v. YouTube Inc., No. 07 CIV. 3582 LLS, 2013 WL 2096411 (S.D.N.Y. May 15, 2013). In this case, plaintiffs alleged that YouTube Inc., and its parent company Google Inc., violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  The Court denied class certification to plaintiffs, asserting that this issue was a “Frankenstein monster posing as a class action.” This Frankenstein reference was resurrected after its initial use in the courts forty-five-years ago, when Judge Lombard objected to a class certification, because “class actions were not meant to cover situations where almost everyone was a potential member of the class.”

In tackling this potentially monstrous class action, the Court held that: (1) the class is too large and; (2) copyrights are not good candidates for class actions.  The Court explained that this “…worldwide class is extremely numerous, so much so that not only their joinder individually in a single action is impracticable, but also that administration of their claims in a single legal action is impracticable.”  The Court further held that this copyright class is not a good candidate for class certification because “by their very nature, copyrightable works of art are each unique, and what infringes one will probably have no effect upon another.”

YouTube is a platform to view videos.  The website has over a billion unique users visiting each month, and four billion hours of video watched each month, with seventy-percent of its total traffic occurring outside of the U.S.  YouTube allows users to post videos that may contain copyrighted material and often amount to copyright infringement by “quoting or copying material in copyrighted works.”  However, because the volume of the content uploaded and the number of the users on YouTube, it is “impracticable,” if not impossible, to pursue the claims on an individual basis – or together as a unit.  In addition, litigating this particular class action suit would likely be an inefficient use of judicial resources because, although each individual claim has similar legal requirements, the analysis of facts particular to each claim are different.

This case is important because it sheds light on the difficult task future plaintiffs will have if they choose to bring a class action claim against one of the many online platforms that create a medium for copyrighted works to be posted – and infringed upon – by its users. It will be interesting to see how courts deal with pending claims of this sort and others that will inevitably arise. Will the “Frankenstein” monster return?