Google Not Responsible for Policing YouTube Content: French Court

google-france-doodle-bastille-day-2004Google has no obligation to “police (YouTube) content before it is put online as long as it informs users that posting television shows, music videos, concerts or advertisements without prior consent of the owner is not allowed.” So says a judgment by a court in France in the case of TF1, France’s largest television network, against YouTube and parent company Google.

TF1 sued YouTube and Dailymotion back in 2008 for intellectual property abuse, seeking damages for alleged copyright infringement on sports and movies that were uploaded to YouTube by users. Instead of the €141 million judgment they sought, TF1 was ordered to pay $800,000 towards Google’s legal fees.

YouTube is still responsible for removing content in violation of copyright once the copyright owner reports it. However, the French judgment takes the onus off video sharing sites like YouTube to prevent pirated content from being displayed in the first place. The Dailymotion verdict is due in September.

Historically, Google hasn’t made out well in French courts. This February, they were ordered to pay $660,000 in damages to Bottin Cartographs after a guilty verdict in that unfair competition case. A month prior, Google was fined $65,000 for autosuggesting the word “crook” when users typed the name of a French insurance company into the search bar. In March 2011, the search giant was fined €430,000 for breach of copyright and €100,000 for collecting wi-fi data from unsecured networks while collecting Street View images for Google Maps.

In 2010, Google settled their AdWords discrimination complaint with French authorities, agreeing to conditions that saw changes to their policies on blocking certain advertisers from purchasing sponsored links. And in 2005, they lost their appeal on the trademark case in which Google was found guilty of “trademark counterfeiting” after a complaint by French travel companies Luteciel and Viaticum.

Stateside, a U.S. second circuit court of appeals panel overturned a judgment in YouTube’s favor in April this year, reinstating a $1 billion lawsuit against Google by media giant Viacom. “All that is left of the Viacom lawsuit that began as a wholesale attack on YouTube is a dispute over a tiny percentage of videos long ago removed from YouTube,” Google told Bloomberg in an emailed statement. “Nothing in this decision impacts the way YouTube is operating.”

Google recently commissioned a top first amendment rights academic to make their case that they are a media outlet, much like the New York Times, and are therefore protected by freedom of speech law. It seemed a preemptive move by a company with every reason to believe such a stance is going to prove useful in the near future.

As they continue to toe the line between search engine and publisher/content curator with the launch of Knowledge Graph features, Google may well expect further legal battles and complaints from copyright holders and creators of original content.

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