German Court: Google Must Filter YouTube In Germany. But How?

By April 20, 2012

In a decision that could have broad implications for user-generated media platforms, a German judge ruled today that Google will have to take measures to block copyrighted material from being uploaded YouTube in Germany. But from a technological standpoint, it’s not clear how they’ll be able to enforce that ruling without cooperation from the German media industry.

Image: YouTubeUnder Judge Heiner Steeneckin’s decision, Google — which is expected to appeal the decision — will need to to install filters that will block viewers in Germany from accessing infringing content. But Google already filters content with a system called Content ID, which compares uploaded content to master copies submitted to YouTube by copyright holders. If a match is identified, the copyright holders have a number of options: The content can be blocked, it can be tracked for user engagement data, or the copyright holder can monetize the clip through ad revenue.

The catch? Google’s negotiations with German performance rights group GEMA fell through in 2009 after that organization demanded a flat rate. And GEMA won’t submit master copies to YouTube to block their content, arguing that Content-ID is inefficient. A text filter, the clearest alternative, would run the risk of blocking too much content — reviews of a new album, for example.

Realistically, a software fix is the only feasible solution. For a human team to manually review every file uploaded to YouTube, which totals a staggering 60 hours of video per minute, would be nearly impossible.

A YouTube spokesperson said that the German ruling “would make it much more difficult for user generated content platforms to operate. It would jeopardize not only YouTube but every other innovative service on the Internet that allows users to submit content by forcing them to implement filtering.”

GEMA’s demands are considered problematic elsewhere in the European entertainment industry.

“Our issue in Germany is with GEMA,” said Spotify CEO and founder Daniel Ek, in 2010. “And that’s the same for YouTube and other services.

A spokesperson for GEMA expressed satisfaction at the ruling, which he said was a step toward even further-reaching decisions that would set a precedent for the practices of other user-generated content hosts in Germany.

“The ruling raises questions regarding the obligations of hosting platforms for user generated content, i.e. the use of Content-ID and word filters,” reads a separate statement by Google. “We will have to examine the decision of the court before being able to comment further on this.”