YouTube’s millions of users upload staggering amounts of content to the site every day and while most of it doesn’t present any issues, some of that material inevitably infringes someone’s copyrights.
In 2013 and 2014, three YouTube users uploaded the movies Scary Movie 5 and Parker to the platform, something which caught the eye of Constantin Film, the exclusive rights holder for the titles in Germany. Since the illegal uploads had been viewed thousands of times, the movie company decided to enforce its rights.
Demands for Extended Personal Information Rejected By YouTube
In correspondence with YouTube and owner Google, Constantin Film demanded access to the personal details of the alleged infringers, including their email addresses, IP-addresses, and phone numbers. The companies denied the request and the matter went to court.
In the first instance, the case went to the Frankfurt District Court in Germany, which rejected the demands of Constantin Film. However, a higher court partly overruled the decision, ordering YouTube to hand over the email addresses of the users but not their IP addresses and phone numbers.
The ruling was acceptable to neither party and the matter was sent to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice. In order to make its decision, however, the Court made a referral to the EU Court of Justice, seeking clarification of the term “address” as laid out in Article 8 of the EU Copyright Directive.
Win for YouTube and Google
In a judgment handed down this morning, Europe’s highest court firmly sided with YouTube and Google and arguably, by extension, the individuals who uploaded the movies several years ago.
“In the judgment in Constantin Film Verleih (C-264/19), delivered on 9 July 2020, the Court ruled that, where a film is uploaded onto an online video platform without the copyright holder’s consent, Directive 2004/481 does not oblige the judicial authorities to order the operator of the video platform to provide the email address, IP address or telephone number of the user who uploaded the film concerned,” a summary provided by the Court reads.
“The directive, which provides for disclosure of the ‘addresses’ of persons who have infringed an intellectual property right, covers only the postal address.”
While the Court notes that the Copyright Directive does provide a mechanism for judicial authorities to order disclosure of personal information to rightsholders in order to settle intellectual property disputes, the term ‘address’ is specific to physical locations. The Court cites an individual’s “permanent address or habitual residence” and expressly excludes email addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses.
“That interpretation is, according to the Court, consistent with the purpose of the provision of Directive 2004/48 on the right to information,” the Court writes.
“In view of the minimum harmonization concerning the enforcement of intellectual property rights in general, such harmonization is limited, according to that provision, to narrowly defined information. Furthermore, the aim of that provision is to reconcile compliance with various rights, inter alia the right of holders to information and the right of users to protection of personal data.”
Interestingly the EU Court says that obtaining additional information on users isn’t completely ruled out but such decisions are to be made by EU Member States after balancing various fundamental rights, including acting proportionately.
“The Court nevertheless stated that the Member States have the option to grant holders of intellectual property rights the right to receive fuller information, provided, however, that a fair balance is struck between the various fundamental rights involved and compliance with the other general principles of EU law, such as the principle of proportionality,” the Court adds
This final decision is in line with an opinion from Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe handed down earlier this year, which concluded that the term ‘address’ is restricted to a physical location.
“There is little doubt that, in everyday language, the concept of a person’s ‘address’, about which the referring court asks in particular, covers only the postal address, as YouTube and Google have rightly submitted,” Saugmandsgaard Øe wrote.
Following the clarification provided in today’s decision, the case will now head back to the German courts.
At the time of writing the full judgment is only available in German and French