Youtube Gets a Semi Win in Copyright Case in Germany
June 28, 2021
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by Arabella Seebaluck

YouTube has won a copyright infringement case filed against it in Germany. An EU court made a ruling on the case ending a long-running battle for the Google-owned company.

The company was sued by Frank Peterson in Germany in 2008. Peterson is a music producer who owns the rights to several phonograms which were uploaded on YouTube by multiple users without his permission. A German court sought advice from the EU Court of Justice in the matter. It is now up to the German court to decide how to interpret the EU judgment in these two cases.

But operators can still be held liable if platforms fail to take quick action to remove or block access to the content. Operators can also be liable for copyright violations if they do not use technological tools to “credibly and effectively” fight against illegal uploads.

There has been a long debate in Europe about the responsibility of host channels to moderate the uploads and check the copyrights of the work being uploaded.

Ruling in the case, EU Court of Justice said, “As currently stands, operators of online platforms do not, in principle, themselves make a communication to the public of copyright-protected content illegally posted online by users of those platforms. However, those operators do make such a communication in breach of copyright where they contribute, beyond merely making those platforms available, to giving access to such content to the public.”

A YouTube spokesperson welcomed the ruling saying YouTube “supports rights holders being paid their fair share”and said, “YouTube is a leader in copyright and supports rights holders being paid their fair share.”We’ve invested in state-of-the-art copyright tools which have created an entirely new revenue stream for the industry. In the past 12 months alone we have paid $4 billion to the music industry, over 30% of which comes from monetised user-generated content

Copyright Laws in EU

 The new copyright law in EU, known as Article 11, 13 and 17 are more stringent and has been developed to hold companies like YouTube and Facebook liable for copyrighted content on their website.

The law means:

  • Social media platforms would have to ensure uploaded content is not in breach of copyright rules.
  • Companies will need licensing agreements with rights holders such as musicians, performers and authors to use their content.
  • The likes of Google News would have to pay publishers for press snippets shown in search results.
  • Non-profits and encyclopedias such as Wikipedia will still be able to use data for research and educational purposes.
  • Fledgling companies with an annual turnover below €10 million ($11.3 million) are exempt.

Critics of the law have said that this will lead to censorship of freedom of speech and also hamper creativity. While Angela Merkel’s party which introduced the law said the reform will not lead to censorship but will “create legal certainty on the use of copyright-protected material.” 

Why is it considered controversial

German Wikipedia blacked out their pages for a day in protest of the new law.

A statement on the German Wikipedia site said that the legal changes “could lead to a considerable restriction of the free internet” and might “considerably impair freedom of expression, artistic freedom and freedom of the press.”

There were multiple protests across member states when the strict law came into effect.  Critics have also said that the law will essentially work as a filtering mandate, change how the internet works and will prove to be a heavy blow especially to those who produce works of satire.

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