German court rules YouTube could be accountable for illegal content

“We need to examine the full details of today's ruling to better understand how it impacts our viewers and the platform,” a YouTube spokesperson told EURACTIV. [Michael Vi/Shutterstock]

Online video sharing platforms such as YouTube could be liable for content uploads that infringe copyrights if they fail to act immediately, according to a ruling from Germany’s top court on Thursday (2 June).

The ruling is part of a larger fight of the creative and entertainment industry against illegally uploaded material, where large online platforms play an important role. Even if third parties posted the uploads, online platforms could find themselves in court.

We need to examine the full details of today’s ruling to better understand how it impacts our viewers and the platform,” a YouTube spokesperson told EURACTIV. 

According to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, this would also apply to shared hosting services that stored data and provided access to online users. 

The platforms would only be liable if they did not act quickly to block access after learning of unauthorised uploads. 

This particular ruling came after Frank Peterson, producer for British singer Sarah Brightman, demanded that the platform remove content of illegally uploaded material. Brightman’s fans had posted videos of her material, although Peterson had signed an exclusive artist agreement. 

The court ruled in Peterson’s favour, but it has not yet decided on YouTube’s liability. 

EU Court ruling clarifies online platforms' responsibility for copyright infringements

A ruling by Europe’s top court has shed some light on the conditions under which content-sharing platforms are exempted from responsibility for copyright infringements, with potentially far-reaching implications for the EU’s Copyright Directive and the Digital Services Act.

The court’s judgment follows guidance from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

While the CJEU last year determined that non-piracy focused online services should not generally be held directly liable for illegal uploads under the 2001 InfoSoc Directive, there were some exceptions for accountability. 

An exception would be when platforms fail to remove copyrighted content quickly after the owner made takedown requests. 

The German court now sent the cases back to the lower courts to determine if YouTube could be liable based on the guidance from the CJEU.

“As this case moves to the local court, we remain confident in the systems we’ve built to fight copyright infringements and help right holders receive their fair share,” the YouTube spokesperson commented. 

However, the final outcome of the German proceeding could be in favour of YouTube’s non-liability after all.

According to copyright lawyer Eleonora Rosati, the CJEU hinted that YouTube would not be liable for copyright infringement under the InfoSoc Directive, which applies here.

“I expect that the eventual outcome of the German proceedings will be in the sense of non-liability of YouTube, because the CJEU – despite not being a court on the merits – hinted at the fact that, based on the circumstances as referred by the national court, YouTube would not be liable for copyright infringement under the InfoSoc Directive 2001/29.”

Notably, this litigation relates to the legal framework available before the adoption of the Copyright Directive in 2019.

Under the Copyright  Directive, platforms would need to do their best to obtain an authorisation from concerned rightsholders for hosting and making available user-uploaded content that incorporates protected materials. 

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Alice Taylor]

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