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YouTube secures a big win in the EU over copyright

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Key Points
  • The European Court of Justice ruled that YouTube and other online platforms shouldn't be held liable for copyright-infringing uploads in some cases.
  • They could, however, be held liable if they are aware copyrighted content is available illegally and refrain from "expeditiously deleting it," the ECJ said.
  • It marks a win for YouTube and other platforms, which have long tussled with artists and musicians over compensation for work that gets shared online.

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YouTube's logo is seen against the flag of the European Union.
Omar Marques | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

LONDON — The European Union's top court on Tuesday ruled that Google's YouTube and other online platforms should not be held liable for copyright-infringing uploads in certain situations.

As things stand, online platforms "do not, in principle, themselves make a communication to the public of copyright-protected content illegally posted online by users of those platforms," the European Court of Justice said.

However, YouTube and other platforms could still be held liable if it "has specific knowledge that protected content is available illegally on its platform and refrains from expeditiously deleting it or blocking access to it," the ECJ added.

The EU recently introduced copyright reforms aimed at making its rules fit for the digital age. One part of the law which drew significant controversy at the time meant that YouTube, Facebook and other platforms would have to install filters to block users from sharing copyrighted material.

Tuesday's ruling focuses on old copyright rules in the bloc. The case arose from a lawsuit from music producer Frank Peterson against YouTube over the uploading of recordings in 2008 over which he claimed to hold the rights.

The news marks a win for YouTube and other content-sharing sites, which have long tussled with artists and musicians over how to compensate them fairly for work that gets distributed on the web.

YouTube has clamped down on copyright violations over the years, a move that has drawn the ire of some popular creators on the platform. Tensions over YouTube copyright action escalated in 2020 as the company increasingly automated content moderation due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

A YouTube spokesperson said the company paid over $4 billion to the music industry over the past 12 months, with 30% of that sum coming from monetized videos.

"YouTube is a leader in copyright and supports rights holders being paid their fair share," the spokesperson said Tuesday. "That's why we've invested in state of the art copyright tools which have created an entirely new revenue stream for the industry."