YouTube Doesn’t Have to Share the Emails, IP Addresses, or Phone Numbers of Its Infringing Users, German Court Rules

Berlin, Germany. Photo Credit: Stefan Widua

A German court has ruled that YouTube doesn’t have to identify the personal information (email, phone number, IP address, etc.) of users who upload copyrighted content without the permission of the media’s owner.

The Federal Court of Justice’s First Civil Senate, which handles cases concerning copyright law, trademarks, and competition law, among other subjects, formally announced the recent decision in a release. Moreover, the Federal Court of Justice’s stance on the matter is largely in line with that which the European Union’s Court of Justice expressed in its own ruling (and as part of the same suit) over the summer.

The underlying case centers on whether YouTube is legally obligated to disclose the personal information of an individual who uploaded Scary Movie 5 and Parker to the video-sharing platform (without permission from the German company that possesses the exclusive domestic rights to the films) multiple times, in both 2013 and 2014.

More specifically, the courts have sought to determine whether the EU’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive of 2004, which essentially says that digital entities such as YouTube must provide rightsholders with the “address” of copyright infringers, also includes their IP addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers (besides their street addresses).

The multi-judge First Civil Senate panel indicated, as the EU Court of Justice did some five months back, that the address component of the law (as well as the similar address-disclosure provision in Germany’s UrhG) “does not include information about e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of the users of the services” or IP addresses.

“There is no indication that the legislature intended to go beyond the provisions of Article 8(2)(a) of Directive 2004/48/EC when designing the scope of the information in Paragraph 101(3) (1) of the UrhG,” the panel wrote in its release detailing the ruling.

A German court last month ruled that club owners can benefit from a lower value-added tax (VAT) rate because “techno is music.” Additionally, the recording industry’s continued effort to reduce the prevalence of music streaming manipulation websites has resulted in the shutdown of what was perhaps Germany’s largest “fake-stream” provider, as well as a more recent crackdown on other such platforms.

Lastly, the implications of the German court’s latest ruling on address-disclosure requirements for copyright infringers may prove particularly significant as the much-debated Copyright Directive goes into effect. (YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has long opposed the measure.) EU member states have until early June of 2021 – just six months from now – to implement domestic laws upholding the controversial legislation.