YouTube’s wings clipped

Author: Alan Wetterhahn

A German court last week passed down a landmark decision holding that YouTube should take greater responsibility for the content which its users post. The ruling related to music clips that had been uploaded and is not only bad news for YouTube but also serves as a reminder to brands and the public that the protection offered by copyright doesn’t fall away simply because copyrighted material has been posted on the Internet.

Gema, a German royalty collection group, was the victor in the court case. Gema successfully argued that YouTube should be responsible for filtering the content that its users posted. According to YouTube itself, 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute and the impact of the ruling will significantly slow down this rate as YouTube will be required to filter videos for infringing copyright.

YouTube has previously argued that it merely provides a platform for content to be published and it shouldn’t be required to monitor the content that its users upload. This argument is consistent with the EU’s E-Commerce Directive which protects providers from liability in relation to content which is stored on their platform. Generally, providers are able to avoid liability unless they do not respond quickly enough to a request to remove infringing content.

The ruling is good news for copyright holders in the music industry and may also have implications for broadcasters across Europe. The case is another setback for YouTube following the reopening of a £620million case brought by Viacom against YouTube in the US.

The case highlights the ease with which copyrighted material can be copied and utilised in other media. This “cut and paste phenomenon” is particularly prevalent across social media platforms. Brands (and, to a lesser extent, the public) should be aware that even if content is posted on the web (and is consequently in the public domain), it does not mean that the content can be copied without any repercussions. Content that has qualified for copyright protection retains that protection and copyrighted material cannot be used without the owner’s permission.

For further information please contact Alan Wetterhahn, Associate, Fladgate LLP (

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