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.