YouTube faces massive music royalty bill in German copyright case

YouTube faces massive music royalty bill in German copyright case

Summary: YouTube could face a massive royalties bill after a court case went against the video-sharing site. The ruling also ruled that YouTube alone is responsible for its users' submissions.


A German court ruled today that Google-owned YouTube can be found responsible for the content that users upload and post on the video-sharing website, a decision that could have massive implications for the company.

YouTube could be forced to pay royalties to those whose music copyright was infringed upon. While nothing is retrospective about today's ruling, the company could be forced to pay if it wishes to continue host videos that are owned by rights holders.

It was also ordered to install word-based filters to bolster its existing filtering system to prevent further infringement of copyrighted work.

But YouTube warned that the measures would slow down the upload process, which could lead to a knock-on effect to citizen journalists in particular, who rely on the site to break user-contributed news.

GEMA, a German music royalties collecting body that represents more than 60,000 German writers and musicians, took YouTube to court over 12 music videos that were uploaded by users for which no royalties were paid.

The court noted that YouTube cannot be obliged to control the content of all videos uploaded to the site, however.

YouTube said during the case that it should not be held responsible for the content its users upload. YouTube said it has state-of-the-art copyright filters which detect and remove infringing content from the site. It also warns users that they are infringing copyright. It said during earlier proceedings that it blocks content when users and rights holders alert the company over infringing content.

The company said in a statement to ZDNet:

"We remain committed to finding a solution to the music licensing issue in Germany that will benefit artists, composers, authors, publishers and record labels, as well as the wider YouTube community. This court's interpretation of the EUCD would make it much more difficult for user generated content platforms to operate. It would jeopardise not only YouTube but every other innovative service on the Internet that allows users to submit content by forcing them to implement filtering.”

Millions of music videos could be affected, and Google could ultimately end up having to fork out vast sums back to the music industry as a result of this landmark case.

It is estimated about 60 hours of video is uploaded to the video-sharing site every minute.

YouTube will likely appeal the decision, though no comment was immediately made by the company after today's ruling.

Image credit: Spencer E. Holtaway/Flickr.


Topic: Social Enterprise

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • These people

    Need to stop fighting the Internet. They're gonna loose each time. Embrace technology. Don't fight it.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • I don't think it's a matter of embracing or rejecting...

      It's a matter of money. How else do they get what they think is coming too them? Other than what they are doing that is?

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • If they want money

        It's time to change the way they do business. Being an aggressive cash hog isn't going to do them any good. The only music I have bought recently was from underground artists who actually have the talent I think deserves the money (as hipster as that sounds). Best thing is the bands and artists see 100% of the income.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • And how much do these bands and artists actually see?

        Cylon Centurion
        Now compare it to a Madonna and or even the lesser Britney? If you have a "model" that will work for them let me and of course them know about it. The thing here is I tend to doubt you do. I understand your desire here but I'm not seeing the practicality of it. I think what you are trying to say is that they should evaporate and die as a business model with no real alternative or working model to evolve into.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
      • Their current model doesn't work

        Hence why they've evolved into the "Sue everybody into oblivion" to make their money.
      • I think if they get the money by suing they would disagree.


        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
      • Aerowind's got it.

        They're supposed to be in business for the artists. When they sue the artist's fans into oblivion, how is that helping the band or artist? Also, after they're done suing, very little of that money goes to the artist. The majority of it goes right onto their pockets.

        It would be a different story if they were out there trying to help the artists succeed, but the truth it, they're not. At least not the MPAA/RIAA. There are other, more proactive ways at cutting down on piracy other than damaging legislation and frivolous lawsuits.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Why is it you assume I disagree with your stance on this?

        Cylon Centurion
        I see exactly what you are saying they are a business in it for their enrichment nobody esle and the stars that do shine and make money are the odd stories compared to the one's who do not. However that said I wonder in this "new world" you would create would their even be stars who rake in cash at all? How would I and the many like me who enjoy music but have no interest in searching for that which I like or going to any trouble/work stumble upon said? I think this new world order has to be thought about carefully cause while it is great that the artists you found get their money for their work in the end is it even enough for them to survive on? Not to mention thrive? If not then why bother? So far in all this you've not presented a reasonable alternative with any good examples of success where I can pull hundreds of examples using the old model. As for these peopel stop suing why should they? THEY CONTINUE TO WIN AND MAKE MONEY!!!! Which for any business is the mark of success no matter how it's done and who is hurt.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
  • Look for a lot more of these lawsuits. There's is no doubt that youtube

    exploits this content to get eyeballs, makes boatloads of cash off of it, and pays the content creators nothing. Say it again. NOTHING. If their content filter is so great then why is this content published on their site and why arent they paying the copyright holders?
    Johnny Vegas
    • Because USERS upload it.

      youtube is successful because it is a user oriented service. Users don't just watch, they upload. There is so much being uploaded that it is impossible to filter with anything near 100% accuracy.

      Think of it this way: You have a camp ground. People have picnics there. You have a no alcohol policy that you try to enforce. Some people sneak it in anyway. After making a reasonable effort to prevent it, how long are you liable for it? What do you do? Hire ex-TSA workers to strip search every picnic goer? It would put you out of business.

      Out of business is what all the old school companies want of the new tech. They want youtube out of business. They want bitorrent out of business. They want FTP out of business. They want the internet out of business. They want the VCR and the cassette tape out of business. They want to go back to 1950, when the only way you could hear any music was on crappy AM radio. It isn't gonna happen!

      I have only purchased three music CDs in the last 10 years. I discovered I really like the band "Bowling for Soup" after my teenage daughter played the "1985" MP3 for me. So I went on youtube and watched all of their videos. Then I fired up bitorrent and downloaded some of their albums. Then I looked them up on the web and saw that they would be playing near me soon. Then we went to their concert last year and bought their latest CD. I also bought a CD from one of their opening bands, (Patent Pending,) for my daughter. (And I also bought 2 t-shirts, and two bumper stickers, as well as some over priced beverages from the club.) We went again this year and bought another Patent Pending CD and some more over priced beverages. (I will eventually get all ten of BFS' CDs, and all 4 PP CDs for my daughter, but it may take a while.)

      That is over $100 in sales from an unapologetic pirate, Me! (But, wait, pirates don't buy things, they only steal things, Right? WRONG!!!) And all of it started with an MP3 that was shared on the internet and some videos that were uploaded to youtube.

      That is the new business model. Find something you like from a friend, hear and see more of it on youtube, and then buy it. If they want to sell CDs, they need to seed some videos and MP3s on youtube and bitorrant, and any other websites they can. The sales will come.

      Instead of litigating against users of new tech, the old school should be reaching out to us. They just don't get it!
  • Youtube and Google should just block Germany.

    Not only block access from German users, but also German companies, anything written in German language, even the name. If a country becomes a hostile place to do business, then the business should leave and let the country wallow in the consequences. Let them set up their own Internet and sue themselves for a change.
    terry flores
    • block germany

      Just what I was thinking. Block Germany. And then the people in germany can sue the content holders for pushing away youtube.
    • Germans aren't the problem

      You-Tube is the problem. Blocking users from Germany from YouTube isn't going to stop the lawsuits. Blocking copyrighted materials from YouTube is what's going to stop them. Just because you're not German doesn't mean you're not uploading materials that are copyrighted in Germany, so blocking Germany servees no purpose.
      • Wrong

        Blocking Germany means that they can't be sued in German courts. If German courts are going to rule against them, take the business out of the country. That serves a HUGE purpose as Germany is the only country with courts to make such an outlandish ruling.

        But these guys aren't doing enough. They need to state in the TOS that it's illegal to use the system if you are a German citizen or organization or if you reside in or frequent Germany. Then extend it to block access to all Google services and ensure there are no places of business in the country. Then there are no avenues for a lawsuit, the German populace would be upset and the courts would cave.
      • Germany might be actually happier

        Without Google in Germany, you understand this opens the grounds for their domestic providers of services similar to Google. Once Google is out of Germany, there will be very little chance to come back.

        Those local companies will also make sure they do respect local laws -- something Germans are very good at!
    • Great advice!

      Of course, Google should block anyone who does not agree with their methods of "borrowing". Ultimately, they will end up with the Great Firewall of Google. Or, best -- just unplug all external connections. Then, Google will benefit from living in their own Internet, undisrupted and without anyone suing them for anything (for other will simply not care).
    • Block the b*stards

      I agree 100%. Then again, I live in China where Google was sued by 50,000 book authors. They didn't go to court to defend themselves. Oh, no. They ran away and told everyone China isn't a big market. Funny thing is, nobody in China misses Google - the local market filled the gap.

      Germany isn't very big either. Maybe Google will run away again.
      Major Plonquer
  • Royalties

    As imperfect as the system is, the artists should still be compensated (via royalties) for their efforts.
    Not too many people that I know are interested in working for nothing.
    da philster
    • But they want it both ways.

      Some of the biggest "uploaders" of Youtube are the media cartels themselves, who use the website to promote their products. This is true even of smaller businesses who own copyrighted material.

      You can't have it both ways. The Fair Use doctrine was intended to provide a middle ground that suited both sides: consumers could "reuse" content in a meaningful way without constantly worrying about claims, and content owners would also benefit from increased exposure of their works. But after legislation bought and paid for by the media cartels, the copyright system has broken the social contract that made the basic principal of copyright beneficial to the public. It is no wonder that the public has retaliated.
      terry flores
      • Fair use

        The fair use is intended for the end-users to benefit, not for the middlemen. Therefore, as long as Google makes (any) money out of YouTube, they MUST pay, even if the end-users can enjoy the fair-use doctrine and have it all for free. It's that simple.