German High Court Postpones YouTube Illegal Uploads Ruling

Despite having its own Content ID filter, YouTube suffers yet another legal setback in Europe.

For ten years now, German music producer Frank Peterson has quarreled with YouTube in court.

Users had illegally uploaded several titles from a singer he frequently works with — Sarah Brightman.  Peterson owns the copyrights to multiple songs from her catalog.

Unfortunately, the popular video platform didn’t adequately respond.  So, Peterson took YouTube to court.

According to Peterson, YouTube has monetized the infringing content and ignored takedown requests.  Thus, not only should the video platform pay damages, it should also reveal who uploaded Sarah Brightman’s works.

Three years ago, a court in Hamburg ruled YouTube must prevent all unauthorized distribution in the future.  The ruling, which found YouTube wasn’t liable for copyright infringement, spared the platform from having to pay damages.  So, despite having monetized the works, YouTube didn’t pay Peterson a single thing.  Nor did the video platform have to reveal who infringed on Peterson’s copyrights.

That may soon change, however, according to a new decision taken earlier today.

Should YouTube be held liable for infringement on its platform?

The Federal Court Justice (BGH), Germany’s highest court, has postponed the final ruling, deciding whether the platform is ultimately liable for copyright violations on its platform over Peterson’s works.

According to the BGH, the court needs the opinion the European Court Justice (ECJ) to make the decision.  Only the ECJ can properly interpret European copyright law, which remains the center this case.

Here’s the key argument German judges presented the ECJ.   When an internet platform operator makes copyrighted content available to users (uploaded by another user who doesn’t own the copyright), is this considered a “communication to the public” forbidden under EU law?  If so, what role do these platforms play in regards to IP violations?

Unfortunately for YouTube, recent rulings have all-but-signaled European lawmakers now intend to hold the video platform liable.

Last June, the Vienna Commercial Court found YouTube actively sorts, filters, and links all video content, including those featuring copyrighted material.

Austria’s Plus 4 television station had sued the video platform 4 years ago.  As with Sarah Brightman’s content, YouTube had repeatedly allowed Plus 4’s content without permission.

The video platform had argued it merely serves as a “neutral content provider.”  The court in Vienna didn’t buy the argument, finding YouTube curates user-generated content.  Thus, the company can’t claim a “neutral intermediary status.”

In addition, despite Google funding $36 million to scuttle the Copyright Directive, European Parliament ruled in favor sweeping changes to copyright law.

Among the sections included in the bill is Article 13.  This section forces YouTube and other platforms to install an effective content recognition technology to prevent copyright infringement.  If a user bypasses this filter, the law would hold the video platform liable.  YouTube would have to pay a price for infringing works on its platform.

So, what potential fallout does Google’s video platform face from these rulings?  Simple.

YouTube can no longer exploit the lack legal protection on digital media to avoid legal liability.  Based on these recent legal precedents in the region, expect the ECJ to write an opinion holding the video platform accountable.

Plus, as the video platform actively monetizes videos, including those containing copyrighted material, it may have to finally pay what’s owed.  Not only to Peterson, but to Plus 4, content creators and many other copyright holders.

Because let’s face it.  YouTube’s own content recognition technology – Content ID – frankly just doesn’t cut it anymore.


Featured image by fdecomite (CC by 2.0)

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