Spanish court clears YouTube of copyright liability for uploaded videos

Out-Law News | 24 Sep 2010 | 12:40 pm | 2 min. read

YouTube is not liable for copyright infringement because users have uploaded video material from Spanish television station Telecino, a Madrid court has ruled. YouTube is not obliged to monitor all content and weed out infringement, the court said.

Telecino sued YouTube because of the presence of material in which it held copyright. A provisional ruling two years ago backed the television station and ordered YouTube to stop hosting any Telecino videos, according to news agency Agence France Presse (AFP).

But in a ruling issued this week, the court has said that YouTube is not responsible for the copyright infringement of the videos it hosts, though it must respond quickly to claims from copyright holders about particular videos.

"YouTube is not a supplier of content and therefore has no obligation to control ex-ante the illegality" of hosted material, the ruling said, according to AFP. "Its only obligation is to cooperate with the holders of the rights in order to immediately withdraw the content once the infraction is identified."

The ruling was welcomed by YouTube, which said that it was a vindication of EU laws which protect online service providers from liability for material that third parties publish.

"This decision is a clear victory for the Internet and the rules that govern it," said YouTube's head of communications for Europe Aaron Ferstman. "This decision reaffirms European law which recognizes that content owners (not service providers like YouTube) are in the best position to know whether a specific work is authorised to be on an Internet hosting service and states that websites like YouTube have a responsibility to take down unauthorised material only when they are notified by the owner."

"The law strikes a careful balance: it protects copyright owners’ interests while allowing platforms like YouTube to operate," said Ferstman. "This decision demonstrates the wisdom of European laws. More than 24 hours of video are loaded onto YouTube every minute. If Internet sites had to screen all videos, photos and text before allowing them on a website, many popular sites – not just YouTube, but Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and others – would grind to a halt."

YouTube faced a similar case in the US when television channel owner Viacom launched a $1 billion law suit alleging that YouTube was responsible for copyright infringement because users uploaded Viacom-owned content to it.

That suits was thrown out earlier this year when the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that YouTube qualifies for similar protection in the US to in the EU. It said that YouTube only becomes liable for infringement once it has been told of specific videos that infringe specific copyrights and fails to act to remove them from its site.

Europe's E-Commerce Directive is the law which ensures that service providers are not liable for infringements caused by material they are not directly responsible for. But that principle may be undermined by some recent national court rulings.

Earlier this year a court in Hamburg allowed a collecting society's suit to go to trial on the issue, saying that there "are some good reasons to think that YouTube indeed has some duty to take care of detecting illegal uploads".

And in Belgium in 2007 a court told ISP Scarlet that it should use technology to filter out of its traffic files which infringe copyright, saying that the company had some responsibility for the way in which its customers used the ISP.