European Court of Justice Rules YouTube, Other Online Platforms Aren’t Broadly Responsible For Users’ Infringing Uploads

The European Court of Justice building in Luxembourg. Photo Credit: Cédric Puisney

The European Court of Justice has officially determined that Google-owned YouTube (and other “operators of online platforms”) isn’t broadly responsible for infringing content uploaded by users.

The Court of Justice just recently made the judgement, which was spurred by a pair of years-old cases that were submitted to German courts. In the first of these actions, Hamburg-born music producer, publishing company co-owner, and Nemo Studios owner Frank Peterson took issue with unauthorized November of 2008 YouTube uploads featuring the newly released music of Sarah Brightman, for whom he has produced several albums.

Despite an initial round of takedowns, Peterson pursued additional legal remedies after some of the protected media in question was reuploaded that same month. And in the second case – submitted by “international specialist publishing company” Elsevier, which owns the exclusive rights to multiple anatomy textbooks and resources – users were said to have posted copyrighted materials on file-sharing platform Uploaded without permission in 2013.

Now, as initially mentioned, the European Court of Justice has found that “operators of online platforms do not themselves make a communication to the public [regarding Directive 2001/29] of copyright-protected content illegally posted online by users” simply by running the platform at hand. Even so, said operators are in fact responsible for protected-media uploads “where they contribute, beyond merely making those platforms available, to giving access to such content to the public,” the Court of Justice also determined.

This includes when platform higher-ups refrain “from expeditiously deleting” unauthorized editions of media or, seemingly in terms of the much-debated Copyright Directive, when these individuals refrain “from putting in place the appropriate technological measures that can be expected from a reasonably diligent operator in its situation in order to counter credibly and effectively copyright infringements.”

Bearing the points in mind, “operators may benefit from the exemption from liability under Directive 2000/31” – which was implemented back in June of 2000 and could soon be revised because of the proposed Digital Services Act – “unless they play an active role of such a kind as to give them knowledge of or control over the content uploaded to their platform.”

For a company to be ineligible for the liability exemptions outlined in Directive 2000/31, it “must have knowledge of or awareness of specific illegal acts committed by its users relating to protected content that was uploaded,” the Court of Justice indicated.

Lastly, the court stated that rightsholders can obtain injunctions against online-platform operators under Directive 2001/29 in certain instances. Though the directive “does not preclude” the unavailability of injunctions under national law when infringement results from a third party and platform operators possess “no knowledge or awareness of that infringement,” exceptions can be made ahead of court proceedings, when platforms fail to “intervene expeditiously in order to remove the content in question or to block access to it and to ensure that such infringements do not recur.

“It is, however, for the national courts to satisfy themselves, when applying such a condition,” the court wrote in closing, “that that condition does not result in the actual cessation of the infringement being delayed in such a way as to cause disproportionate damage to the rightholder.”

Earlier this month, YouTube claimed to have paid $4 billion to the music industry during the last year, and the EU’s European Commission is currently investigating Apple for allegedly “distorting competition in the music streaming market” and TikTok for allegedly violating child-protection laws.

5 Responses

  1. SF

    Copyright infringement is low-hanging fruit. A couple years ago, Google threatened to cancel distribution agreements to Google Play if a rights holder refused to distribute their works on YouTube. That’s called extortion. Maybe these government numbskulls should pay less attention to consumers and more attention to how these techbro scumbags manipulate their suppliers and sell fake ad traffic to their clients. That’s the core of the corruption.

    • Joe Sixpack

      Sounds like capitalism to me. Eventually, anti-trust catches up and restores the balance.

      Except if you are Twitter and Facebook. Evil organizations run by filthy billionaires drunk with power.