YouTube Liable For Copyright Infringements, Court Rules

A court in Germany has ruled that YouTube is responsible when its users post videos containing copyright music. On top of its existing ContentID systems, the court in Hamburg now wants YouTube to install additional keyword-based filters that detect when copyrighted material is uploaded.

The battle between YouTube and music rights group GEMA began in earnest when talks between the pair on the issue of royalties completely broke down in 2010. An earlier agreement with GEMA, which represents around 60,000 artists, had expired in 2009.

Rather than come to the negotiated settlement preferred by YouTube, GEMA commenced legal proceedings on copyright grounds against the Google-owned video site. The action concerned 12 specific music videos uploaded by YouTube users to which GEMA owns the rights but for which YouTube paid no royalties. GEMA argued that YouTube hadn’t done enough to monitor content submitted to the site.

Today a court in Hamburg ruled that YouTube is indeed responsible for the material its users upload to the site, despite the site having state-of-the-art filters which aim to detect and remove infringing content.

Presiding Judge Heiner Steeneck said his ruling gave both sides a reason to declare victory. GEMA wanted YouTube to take responsibility for videos uploaded in the past as well as those uploaded in the future but that was denied.

“YouTube isn’t the perpetrator here, it’s those people who illegally upload songs,” Steeneck said. “That’s why YouTube doesn’t have to search all videos uploaded in the past. It only has to help detect videos from the moment it is alerted about possible violations.”

Although YouTube operates its ‘ContentID’ anti-piracy system which detects infringements by way of digital fingerprints, the court ruled that in isolation that is insufficient. In addition YouTube must now filter by keyword too.

Both sides say they are considering their options and are yet to announce whether they will appeal the ruling.

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