Hamburg, Germany -- In an interim victory for musicians, filmmakers and other creators of art and entertainment, YouTube, the most favored online video sharing platform, has lately been taking some heat over music clip royalties. A German royalties group attained a court victory over Google's YouTube over the weekend in a ruling which compels the video-sharing site to take down copyrighted clips.
A court in Hamburg on Friday directed Google to install filters on its YouTube service in Germany to detect and stop people from gaining access to material for which they do not own the rights. The court asserted that the website was accountable for the content its users published, a decision which could be a first step towards YouTube and other Internet publishers having to pay large sums in royalties.
In fact, YouTube has in the past maintained that it cannot be held accountable for the content that is uploaded by its users, a Hamburg judge, Heiner Steeneck, eventually acknowledged in his verdict that Google was not directly responsible for the uploaded material. But he said the company needed to install more upload filters to classify music clips owned by a royalty collection group called GEMA to stop violations.
“This is a victory along the way to what will be a very important case,” Peter Hempel, a spokesman for GEMA, the German association that imposes and collects royalties on recorded media. “This case, when it is eventually decided, will set a precedent for the legal responsibilities of online platform operators such as Google in Germany.”
Gema, which represents around 64,000 German artists, said that YouTube has not taken enough initiative to thwart the illegal uploads, and seeking damages for royalties concerning 12 of its licensed songs. The court sided with Gema for 7 of the clips, which could lead to a hefty bill for YouTube.
“YouTube must take preventive measures to avert violations in future,” said GEMA's lawyer Kerstin Baecker. “The court has clearly rejected the argument that YouTube as a host is not responsible for users' content.”
On the other hand, if any one of the seven videos concerned are re-posted on the website, YouTube could face a fine of up to 250,000 euros ($330,000), according to German law.
The German association expressed satisfaction over the court's decision and demanded that music-on-demand platforms that stream music to users for free and are financed by advertisements pay just over 10 percent of their music revenues.
By the way, the Hamburg court mentioned that YouTube was accountable for the content users post online and should remove any clips for which GEMA has insisted copyright protection. The court also said YouTube did not have to proactively trawl through its site in search of possible copyright violations but must remove clips at the request of the rights holder.
“We welcome this decision,” a spokesman for Google in Germany said, stating that the court's ruling created legal certainty for both uploading sites and the people who use them.
A spokesman for GEMA said: “This in an important partial victory.”
However, the judge declined a request by GEMA that Google sort through its entire online music archive and purge its system of all copyrighted material. The video sharing site said it took no responsibility for what users did but acted swiftly when told of copyright violations.
Google had no comment on the German ruling, concerning the trial that has been ongoing since 2010. However, the search engine giant is expected to appeal the ruling.
“Today's verdict confirms that YouTube is a hosting platform and cannot be obliged to control all videos uploaded to the site,” Google said. “The ruling is a partial success for the music industry in general, for our users as well as artists, composers, YouTube and other Web platforms in Germany.”
Equally though, if the new filters are imposed, this could delay upload times for YouTube, which presently logs about 60 hours of new video to its site every minute, and more than 3 billion hours of video are watched on the platform each month. This would definitely be a setback to the service--a main reason why many users steer clear of other video hosting sites, like Vimeo, is because of the long processing times.
A YouTube clip is processed very quickly, and a Gema-endorsed filter would likely hinder this to an unknown extent, with copyrights having to be cleared. Eventually, if a random user is monetizing an unsigned artist's content on YouTube, which happens all the time, this is also a bad thing, which would warrant longer wait times.