With more than two billion logged-in users every month, YouTube is the world’s most dominant video platform. Every day people watch over a billion hours of videos, together generating billions of views.
Over the past five years, YouTube has paid out over $2 billion to partners who utilize the company’s Content ID system to utilize otherwise infringing uploads but some companies prefer to tackle alleged infringement through legal action and the courts instead.
Users Uploaded Pirated Movies to YouTube
In 2013 and 2014, three YouTube users uploaded the movies Scary Movie 5 and Parker to the platform breaching the rights 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 sought to identify the individuals so that compensation could be obtained.
Constantin contacted YouTube and owner Google, demanding access to the personal details of the alleged infringers. The company sought the users’ email addresses, IP-addresses, and phone numbers. These requests were denied and the matter went to court.
The case first went to the Frankfurt District Court, which rejected the demands of the movie company. Later, a higher court partly overruled the decision, ordering YouTube to reveal the email addresses of the users but not their IP addresses and phone numbers.
This decision was unacceptable to both parties and the case was sent to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH). With the BGH uncertain of how the disclosure request should be handled under EU law, the Court referred questions to the EU Court of Justice, with clarification sought on the definition of the term “address” as referenced in Article 8 of the EU Copyright Directive.
EU Court of Justice Rules in YouTube’s Favor
In a decision handed down in July 2020, Europe’s highest court effectively found in favor of YouTube, Google, and the three users who uploaded the pirated movies several years ago.
The Court found that Directive 2004/481 does not oblige the authorities to compel a video platform operator to disclose email addresses, IP addresses or telephone numbers of users who uploaded pirated content.
In this case, and in line with an earlier opinion, the term “addresses” refers to a physical location, i.e a “permanent address or habitual residence”, not email addresses, IP addresses or telephone numbers.
Case Returns to the Federal Court of Justice
With the benefit of the EU Court of Justice’s ruling, the case headed back to the BGH. In a decision handed down late last week, the Court noted that the parties have been arguing about what information should be disclosed, with Constantin pushing for maximum disclosure and YouTube seeking to have the case dismissed altogether.
Supported by the EU Court’s decision, Germany’s top appeals court ruled that under EU law and Germany’s corresponding copyright law, YouTube is not required to reveal all of the allegedly-infringing users’ personal details to Constantin Film.
Any disclosure to the movie company can only consist of the users’ names and postal addresses. This remains the case when the users only provided an assumed name or pseudonym when they signed up, as was the case when the users uploaded the movies in 2013 and 2014.
If YouTube has no physical address on file for the users (which is the case in respect of all three uploaders), the company does not have to hand over IP addresses, despite YouTube users’ consenting to their storage when they sign up. YouTube does not have to hand over any telephone numbers or dates of birth it may have on file either.
The decision can be found here