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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 http://docs.dpaq.de/695-310_o_461-10__urteil_vom_20.04.12.pdf

_edit2: a legal analysis (in German) can be found here
http://www.lto.de/recht/hintergruende/h/gema-gegen-youtube-lg-hamburg-regelt-den-umgang-mit-musikvideos-auf-internetplattformen/
and it confirms the article: Google is not the copyright infringer, but is responsible for the infringement.
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11 comments
 
These groups are insane. YouTube is free advertising for their artists. Who cares if they don't make any money from it. People see their artists videos, maybe buy a shirt, album or even go to a concert and then they collect from that. It also promotes these artists to people who might not see it through other media.

Very shortsighted in my opinion.
 
Let see transparency in the increase in the volume of CD sales as a result of file sharing and the increase in digital sales as a result of services like you tube. The idea of services like you tube hurting artists sales is ridiculous!
 
Since they don't release any of that information it is hard to know what the state of their business is. They obsoleted themselves by not changing their business model and embracing online music. Look at the success of iTunes. That could have been their success, but they put all their resources into suing people.
 
+Alexander Clausen Great resource, thanks for the link. It is hard to believe after knowing what we know, that an organisation could actually have its head so far up is assets it cant see the forest for the trees.
 
This has been the case for many years +Ron Clifford. There is a lot to be learnt by businesses and business leaders when it comes to innovation and dealing with in the minions.
 
+Eddy Rademaker Yes for some, but other corporations show remarkable flexibility and vision, like Google, and apple for instance. It is a form of corporate blindness.
 
True and ironic that Sony Music is bagging GEMA and yet the video and gaming divisions proudly cling to a divided world distribution model i.e different prices and availability in different zones of the world! Thats a archaic model when the internet provides a level field.
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