District Court Awards Google and YouTube Sanctions For Frivolous Allegations


This is apparently an antitrust case against Google and YouTube, a subsidiary of Google. The plaintiff also included other allegations against the two defendants that the court deemed to be frivolous. Plaintiff alleged that the defendants conspire to “game” the view counts of certain videos posted on YouTube. There were also certain allegations that the defendants wrongfully remove “independent” music videos.

The court concluded that, although portions of the complaint stated a claim, these particular allegations violated Rule 11 and awarded sanctions. The court explained:

Defendants take issue with paragraphs 19(a), 22-24, 30, 38, 44, 91, 92, 103, 109 and 110 of Plaintiffs’ 3AC. Together, these paragraphs alleged that Defendants and their named executives agreed to permit certain record labels to game the view count without enforcement. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have no evidentiary basis for this theory. Plaintiffs respond that significant circumstantial evidence supported their theory. For example, the 3AC described very high view counts for certain videos, and noted that Defendants would have benefitted from such a conspiracy because they shared in advertising revenue. The Court concludes that it was baseless to allege that Defendants conspired to game view counts—the circumstantial evidence does not provide a basis for such an allegation. These allegations violate Rule 11.

Second, Defendants argue that, contrary to Plaintiffs’ allegations, YouTube has taken action against the alleged conspirator record labels. See 3AC ¶ 22 (alleging that “G-Y and the G-Y Executives refrain from 4H TOS enforcement action against the Major Labels and the other Conspiring Entities”). Publicly-available information demonstrates that Plaintiffs’ counsel could not have undertaken an objectively reasonable inquiry before presenting this allegation. For example, Defendants submit an online news article entitled: “YouTube cancels billions of music industry video views after finding that they were fake or `dead,'” discussing a video by Rihanna, a Universal artist. Haas Dec. Ex. 5. Huffington Post published a similar story the following day. Id. Ex. 6. Paragraph 22 violates Rule 11.

Third, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have insufficient factual support for their allegations regarding Google and YouTube executives’ actions. Plaintiffs make two arguments in response. They argue that David Drummond’s inaction following Plaintiffs’ counsel’s May 12, 2014 letter to him outlining the sequence of events giving rise to their legal claims could be construed as evidence of his and others’ prior awareness of the conspiracy. See Docket No. 101-9. The lack of response to this letter does not serve as a basis for Plaintiffs’ specific claims about Defendants’ executives’ participation in and knowledge of a view count gaming conspiracy. Next, Plaintiffs argue that, if there were a conspiracy, it must have been at the direction of senior management. However, as explained above, there was no basis to allege the view count gaming conspiracy. For these reasons, the allegations pertaining to the actions and knowledge of particular Google and YouTube executives violate Rule 11.

The court also discussed other examples of false allegations in the complaint. The court then awarded the defendants their costs and legal fees in bringing the motion for sanctions. Obviously, when battling a powerful defendant such as Google, which has access to excellent lawyers and has first class discovery technology tools available to it, a lawyer must be exceedingly careful to make sure that allegations are well-grounded in fact before they are pleaded. These plaintiffs lawyers apparently failed to do that and were sanctioned as a result.

Source: SONG FI, INC. v. GOOGLE, INC., Dist. Court, ND California 2016 – Google Scholar

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