Educators are closely watching a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit challenging YouTube’s ability to keep copyrighted material off its popular video-sharing web site—a lawsuit that could have important implications for the future of Web 2.0 applications, observers say.

In court papers filed late last week, YouTube’s owner, Google Inc., argues that the lawsuit threatens how hundreds of millions of people exchange all kinds of information online. Judging from the responses of those who spoke with eSchool News, many educators would seem to agree.

“The success of a lawsuit such as this would have a chilling effect on any site that allows users to generate content, and would fundamentally undermine the gains our society has realized through the free flow of information and knowledge on the internet,” said Jim Klein, director of information services and technology for the Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita, Calif.

“This would have a profound impact on education, where the benefits of Web 2.0 [technologies] are only just beginning to be realized. These sites offer myriad educational opportunities to reinforce key 21st-century skills, and their diversity offers educators a wide range of choices to include in their lessons and/or practice.”

Google’s lawyers made the claim in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, as the company responded to Viacom Inc.’s latest lawsuit alleging that the internet has led to “an explosion of copyright infringement” by YouTube and others.

In its filings, Google said it fully complies with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed by Congress 10 years ago to support and encourage the development of internet services.

“Legitimate services like YouTube provide the world with free and authorized access to extraordinary libraries of information that would not be available without the DMCA—information created by users who have every right to share it,” Google attorneys wrote in the court papers. “YouTube fulfills Congress’s vision for the DMCA.”

A Google spokesperson did not return messages left by eSchool News.

The back-and-forth between the companies has intensified since Viacom brought its lawsuit last year, saying it was owed damages for the unauthorized viewing of its programming from MTV, Comedy Central, and other networks, including such hits as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

In papers submitted to the Manhattan court May 23, Google said YouTube “goes far beyond its legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their works.”