German Court Orders YouTube and Google to Provide Info Copyright Offenders

A court finds that the tech giants share some culpability with uploaders of infringing content (though they aren't on the hook for it).

YouTube and Google must immediately take action to block videos if they are notified by authors, artists and publishers about concrete copyright infringements, according to a new ruling by a Hamburg regional court on July 1.

"What obligations the service provider has in this context -- in particular whether and to what extent it is obliged to block and then check and monitor the content uploaded to its platform -- is determined by what it can reasonably be expected to do in the circumstances of the case in question," stated the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court ("OLG Hamburg").

The court confirmed that YouTube and Google were in breach of their duty of care and thus liable with regard to some of the music tracks in question. Under the principle of duty of care, providers of Internet content such as YouTube are not initially obliged to monitor the data they receive and store, or to search for circumstances indicating illegal activities on the part of the users.

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Author and music producer Frank Peterson ("Time to say goodbye" and various other titles such as "Question of Hounor", " Iden" by Sarah Brightman) was granted a precedential judgment against YouTube and Google by the OLG Hamburg. The judgment will have long-term implications around the rights of Europe's creative industry and the interests of its artists.

In particular, the court found in favor of Peterson as follows: YouTube and Google are ordered to provide the plaintiff in writing with tdata, including names and addresses, of pseudonymous uploaders who have uploaded infringing works to YouTube. If no postal address is available, the defendants shall provide the corresponding e-mail addresses.

"YouTube and Google will now have to contend with constant requests from copyright holders in the creative industry -- in particular from the creative artists themselves -- for information on the deliverable data of illegal uploaders, with a view to enforcing claims for damages against them," Peterson's lawyer Jens Schippmann tells Billboard.  YouTube and Google can also expect to face direct claims for damages if they refuse to reveal such deliverable data so as to protect the uploaders’ interests.

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Schippmann added, "The judgment undermines the business model of the providers, namely to make illegally generated user content accessible to the public while protecting the anonymity of the uploaders."

With this judgment, the OLG Hamburg is allowing the creative industry to begin tracking down the illegal uploaders, but for the time being shielding multi-billion-dollar companies such as Google against direct claims for damages.

In the opinion of the copyright holders, YouTube was not simply publishing third-party content, but acting on its own as a provider, appropriating the third-party content and utilizing that content within the meaning of copyright law. On that basis, the plaintiff also requested that the court find that YouTube and Google were liable to pay compensation. In neither judgement did the court agree with this view that the companies were responsible as perpetrators and instead ruled out their liability on this count.

Peterson declined to provide a statement. Google also refused to comment, but a spokesperson for the company told Reuters it would wait until the court's detailed ruling is released in two weeks before deciding whether to appeal.