YouTube must filter content uploaded by users, a German court ruled on Friday.
YouTube was taken to court for copyright infringement in uploaded videos by German music royalty collecting society GEMA, which said that the Google-owned video site isn't doing enough to block copyright-protected music videos.
YouTube argued that it was simply a platform and not responsible for the user-generated content. In what may look like a compromise, the Hamburg District Court on Friday ruled that the video site is liable, but only after it has been informed of the copyright infringement.
However, the court wants to see YouTube implement more efficient filtering software, such as word filtering, to block illegal content uploaded by users, said court press officer Conrad Mueller-Horn.
YouTube currently offers copyright holders its Content-ID application, which allows them to search for copyright-protected material by comparing uploaded videos with a reference video - a so-called digital fingerprint. Copyright holders can then decide to take it down, leave it up or place advertisements next to it and share in the revenue from those ads, explained Google spokesman Al Verney. He added that this system, which allows copyright holders to take down videos themselves, had proved extremely popular with other royalty-collecting agencies throughout Europe.
In practical terms, YouTube will no longer be allowed to show in Germany seven videos of songs that are protected by GEMA. But many tech-savvy Germans already take advantage of software to mask their IP address location and can access the content from foreign countries where there are no restrictions.
Civil liberties organisations are concerned about courts ordering increasing filtering technology. "It is another step towards the privatization and very fallible automation of our rights to communicate online. How healthy is the cultural life of a society which effectively bans itself from parody and mash-up of existing cultural expressions?" Joe McNamee of digital rights group EDRi said in email.
Neither YouTube nor GEMA has yet indicated whether they will appeal the court's decision. Google's official statement reads: "The ruling raises questions regarding the obligations of hosting platforms for user generated content, i.e. the use of Content-ID and word filters. We will have to examine the decision of the court before being able to comment further on this."