German court to issue ruling in landmark YouTube copyright case

10 May 2018

YouTube app on mobile. Image: East pop/Shutterstock

A German court will have to decide whether YouTube is liable if users upload clips they don’t own.

A judgment is expected from the German federal court of justice in Karlsruhe, which could increase pressure on platforms such as YouTube in terms of copyright infringement.

According to the Berliner Morgen Postthe court must decide if the platform is responsible in principle for uploaded content that violates copyright law.

A decade-long fight

YouTube’s entire brand is focused on the hosting and facilitation of user-generated content, and creators often upload videos that may not belong to them in a legal sense, such as music videos, films etc.

This has been a thorn in the side of musicians and film studios for many years, and one music producer based in Hamburg, Frank Peterson, has been battling the platform for close to a decade.

YouTube refutes liability

YouTube claims it is a service that makes third-party content available to others and should not be held liable for copyright violations. Peterson is of the opinion that YouTube should be responsible for the uploaded content, as it benefits financially from it.

Various titles of a tour and album by singer Sarah Brightman that Peterson produced were illegally uploaded to YouTube.

YouTube said the liability must fall with the user and warned that if it was found liable, it could mean major disruption and change to its platform and others like it.

According to Deutsche Welle, a lower court in Hamburg previously ruled that YouTube needed to remove 36 video clips that Peterson claims he owns the rights to.

Ruling could effect digital content all over the web

If the court rules against YouTube, it will be a landmark decision, the repercussions of which will affect the digital content landscape in a massive way. It may be that EU regulation is requested of the video service in order to fairly remunerate the copyright holders.

YouTube is no stranger to copyright run-ins in Germany. In 2016, it struck a deal with German royalties collection society GEMA, meaning that many previously unlicensed (therefore unavailable) music videos in the country would now be playable on its platform. Previous to the deal, German users would have seen a blocking message on any GEMA content.

YouTube app on mobile. Image: East pop/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects