The Vienna Commercial Court in Austria has ruled that YouTube is not a neutral host provider, and can be held partly liable for copyright breaches in videos uploaded by its users.
On Tuesday, the Austrian Commercial Court found that YouTube is directly liable for the copyright infringements committed by its users. The court rejected the “neutral intermediary” defense that argues that the platform can’t be held legally responsible for the content it carries.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, a preliminary decision by the Commercial Court, which is not yet legally binding, could have a serious impact on the economy of all online video platforms, such as Facebook, in Europe.
In 2014, Austrian commercial TV channel Puls4 filed a lawsuit against YouTube after copyright-protected content from its channels was posted on the video platform. Puls4 and its lawyers said they had established YouTube’s complicity in spreading the content though a “painstaking” analysis of how the site works.
YouTube argued that it was a technical service, a “host provider,” therefore it fell under the provisions of the European Union’s E-Commerce Act, which specifies that technical service providers are mediators, and are not liable for the content posted by their users.
In an initial ruling, the court disagreed, finding that YouTube’s activity in “sorting, filtering and linking” content on its platform, “in particular by creating tables of contents according to predefined category” helps determine the surfing behavior of users.
The court concluded that YouTube cannot be considered as a neutral platform.
YouTube made a statement to the Austrian media, saying, “It takes copyright protection very seriously” and it was “studying the ruling and holding all our options open, including appealing the decision.”
The European Union is discussing possible reforms to copyright law to ensure news publishers and artists are better compensated for their work when it appears on online platforms.
YouTube has four weeks to petition the court before it issues its binding rule, and if the preliminary ruling stands, it is expected the video streaming platform will appeal.