YouTube Wins Another Round In German Copyright Tussle

January 28, 2016, 4:37 PM UTC
Photograph by Getty Images

Yet another judge has sided with Google’s YouTube in its epic struggle with German music performing rights society GEMA, again confirming that the platform is not responsible for what its users upload.

On Thursday, the higher regional court of Munich rejected GEMA’s claim for damages to the tune of around €1.6 million ($1.75 million). If you’re wondering, that figure represents royalties for 1,000 music videos chosen as examples, at a rate of 0.375 euro cents per view. The court upheld a judgement by the lower regional court in Munich, which said YouTube is just a host for uploaded video.

YouTube blocks many, many videos that contain music in Germany because of its seven-year-old GEMA dispute, resulting in teeth-grinding frustration for people trying to see what others around the world are sharing and talking about on social media.

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Both sides, of course, claim the high ground. Google (GOOG) points out that it has agreements in place with more than 20 other European collecting societies, and notes that German artists are missing out on revenues because their content is blocked in the country.

GEMA says YouTube has passed on no royalties to it in recent years, despite collecting ad revenues on material from GEMA’s catalog that users upload. It should be noted that GEMA’s demands have fallen substantially from the frankly outrageous 12 euro cents per play it once wanted.

“YouTube is not just a technical service provider, but behaves like a music service. Therefore YouTube should also, like a music service, purchase a license and not pass on the responsibility to the uploader,” said GEMA broadcast and online director Thomas Theune in a statement.

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The German collecting society will now study the judgement, which is not final, and in all likelihood make an appeal to a federal court. Meanwhile, Germans are no closer to escaping their broken YouTube experience.

This isn’t just a matter that concerns people in Germany, though it has created a great deal of hatred for GEMA and encouraged a lot of Germans to experiment with proxies and virtual private networks (VPNs).

It’s important to remember that Germany is probably the most influential country in the European Union and that the man in charge of the EU’s upcoming copyright reforms, Günther Oettinger, is Germany’s representative in the European Commission.

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Oettinger’s department carried out a public consultation in recent months over “the regulatory environment for platforms, online intermediaries, data and cloud computing and the collaborative economy,” with the liability of hosts such as YouTube being a key topic. The full results of that consultation are yet to emerge, but this week the Commission gave a snapshot.

The current rules let platforms such as YouTube off the hook for users’ infringements, as long as they try to help fight them with systems like Content ID. Unsurprisingly, rights holders are in favor of giving intermediaries more responsibility for making sure unlawful content stays off their platforms. The intermediaries “do not support this.”

It remains to be seen what Oettinger will propose for the European stage regarding this issue, but for now, Google is in the clear.

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