This has far reaching implications for all of us, on YouTube, On Google Plus, On the internet. If allowed to stand, and expand, it would mean the end of social sharing as we know it.
Breaking: huge blow to YouTube in Germany: Gema wins court case!
GEMA, a German music royalties collecting agency, has just won a court case against YouTube making Google responsible for all uploads by its users. This article is a ´breaking news story´ so check back on this original post for corrections or additions..

In the Hamburg state court the judge ruled this afternoon that a number of uploaded music videos, for which no licenses were paid, shouldn´t have been allowed on YouTube. Google argued that it has no responsibility for uploads by users. They make a reasonable effort to check and even block videos when stakeholders inform them, but they can´t be held legally responsible for every video.

In what could well be a landmark decision the judge held Google responsible and fined the YouTube owner with up €250,000 per case (seven videos in total) or 6 months in jail. Now we don´t expect +Larry Page to fly over to Germany to do jail time and Google can easily afford the maximum penalty in this specific court case. However this decision goes much further as it effectively makes Google responsible for all copyright violations on YouTube.

Google is instructed to install additional filters to prevent the uploading of titles whose rights are represented by German Gema. YouTube already has a system called Content ID which identifies copyrighted songs and, as German readers will know, this is highly effective. Most of the YouTube movies with music are blocked in Germany. This is not enough says Gema, as some variations on the songs are not identified by the filter. They mention as an example a bad karaoke version which could slip through the content identification system.

Now why would Gema object to a homemade version of ´Rivers of Babylon´ as sung by your drunken uncle on his birthday party? No, not to protect the poor uncle from embarrassment the next Monday morning at the coffee machine, but to cash in on the song rights. Although the lyrics come straight from the bible, the original song-writers are still entitled to a license fee every time the song is performed.

We are not joking as ´Rivers of Babylon´ was one of the disputed songs and YouTube has to install a filter on the name of this and other songs as part of the verdict. Google has argued in court that it wouldn´t work and that song title based identification leads to large number of false positives, but they haven´t persuaded the judge. Imagine filtering on every instance of “You and I” just because Lady Gaga made a song with that title!

However these specific songs are not the real issue. What´s at stake here is the responsibility for uploads. If Google becomes responsible for all user uploaded content, G+ can close its doors as well. A quick glance at G+’s content shows that copyrighted texts, images and videos are freely posted.

The new unified Google Terms of Service say: “Our Services display some content that is not Google’s. This content is the sole responsibility of the entity that makes it available. We may review content to determine whether it is illegal or violates our policies, and we may remove or refuse to display content that we reasonably believe violates our policies or the law. But that does not necessarily mean that we review content, so please don’t assume that we do.”

In case you wonder, Google refers to you as that ´entity´. The responsibility for possible copyright violations is pointed at the user. Nice try, but following this verdict no longer true in Germany.

The case is officially limited to a number of songs, but there is no doubt that the next step will be to hold Google responsible for every violation of copyright. This would be the end of services like YouTube and G+ in Germany. A market of 80 million consumers which is just too large to lose so we expect Google to appeal, but at the time of writing there is no official word.

The end of an era or a fluke by the German court?

_Author: +Max Huijgen

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_edit: the court verdict became available after writing this article, the text (in German) can be found here

_edit2: a legal analysis (in German) can be found here
and it confirms the article: Google is not the copyright infringer, but is responsible for the infringement.
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