On April 20, 2012 a German court in Hamburg ruled on a case initiated by GEMA, a performance rights organization in Germany representing over 60 000 artists collectively, alleging copyright infringement of 12 separate music clips hosted by Google’s YouTube. GEMA alleged Google of not taking the requisite amount of care to prevent the illegal sharing of copyrighted material.
What the court said
The issue at bar was whether Google had effective mechanisms in place to prevent the illegal sharing of copyrighted material on its video sharing website. The court found in favour of GEMA, stating Google had not satisfied the required diligence to prevent the spread of such material.
However, this case should not be viewed as a resounding victory for GEMA, as one should interpret the comments made by presiding judge Heiner Steeneck:
But Google isn't the perpetrator here, it's those people who illegally upload songs,…that's why Google doesn't have to search all videos uploaded in the past. It only has to help detect videos from the moment it is alerted about possible violations.
Google maintained that it provides satisfactory mechanisms to detect violations of copyrighted material, while GEMA argued these mechanisms should be expanded. The court ruled that Google must add a “word search” in addition to the already existent “ContentID search” which allows searches for audio content in greater detail. This additional search will give rights holders a more effective way to search and determine if their work is being illegally distributed.
Why it’s important
One of the drawing features of this case is that it will likely serve as a heavy precedent, in Europe especially, with respect to the framework used for copyright infringement analysis of video sharing websites. The main question answered was not whether Google is responsible for the content its users post; but rather how much responsibility falls on Google’s shoulders, and how prudent their actions must be to satisfy copyright law.
Furthermore, international parties are keenly interested for their own vested interests in determining whether precautions should be implemented to guard against potential findings of copyright infringement with respect to their actions. In Canada specifically, with the impending release of the Copyright Modernization Act Bill C-11, this may become a live issue sooner rather than later for both rights holders groups and video sharing websites.
By: Kamaldeep Sembi