We’re mostly all aware by now of the USA government’s intention to introduce two bills that could change the way we share information over the internet. The SOPA and PIPA bills, if initiated, would severely limit what we can and can’t do over the internet. Under the proposed SOPA and PIPA bills, the government would be able to blacklist and remove websites if they are seen to breach intellectual property regulation, or are distributing copyrighted works. This could have devastating consequences for sites like YouTube, which rely on sharing images, video and audio content.
The bills have been met with much opposition and have struck fierce debates between those fighting for tight privacy laws and those that see them as an infringement of freedom to view information over the internet. To highlight the possible impact of these bills, Wikipedia famously staged a ‘blackout;, where visitors to its site were met with a black screen and a stark message. Users were unable to access any of its content for 24 hours.
People have argued that it simply is not possible to prevent internet users from sharing files online. It would not only be severely limit what we can do online, but it would be impossible to implement and would create much confusion over what is and is not legal. This, say protestors, would end up creating criminals out of innocent people and websites.
If passed in the States, these bills could have an impact all over the world. What has not yet been entirely clear is whose responsibility it would be if “illegal” content was uploaded onto sites such as YouTube, for example; would it be the individual user, or the site itself? It is indeed dangerous territory for YouTube, as yesterday’s court ruling showed. The video sharing site had been embroiled in a court battle with German royalty collection group, Gema, over breaches of piracy laws on 12 separate music clips posted to its site. The battle between the companies had been ongoing since 2009, when videos from German recording companies were blocked from YouTube. They then started a court case in 2010 after they failed to come to an agreement amongst themselves.
Gema had been fighting for the responsibility of these clips to fall with YouTube, and wanted the site to install filters that would pick up when a user is trying to post music whose rights are owned by Gema. YouTube argued back that it could not be responsible for content uploaded by individual users.
Defeat for YouTube
However, the court did not rule in YouTube’s favour and, in an historical ruling, said that YouTube must take responsibility for the clips. This will now mean that the company could be faced with a huge bill to pay for the clips on which there was found to be a violation of piracy laws. A spokesman for YouTube said of the ruling: “Today’s ruling confirms that YouTube as a hosting platform cannot be obliged to control the content of all videos uploaded to the site. We remain committed to finding a solution to the music licensing issue in Germany that will benefit artists, composers, authors, publishers and record labels, as well as the wider YouTube community.”
This ruling could be another significant turning point for the internet in terms of file sharing, the effects of which are likely to be seen across the globe. The ruling – if enforced – would affect users of the site, as every video would have to go through a lengthy approval process in order to be cleared for copyright. There is no doubt that this will cause a backlash among users. This would also have huge practical implications for YouTube, a site that sees approximately 60 hours of video uploaded every minute.
Multiple victories for royalty firm
YouTube isn’t the first site to have come into conflict with Gema. Grooveshark, a global music streaming site, pulled out of operations in Germany after it claimed Gema made it impossible for them to run a profitable business due to high licensing rates. Also, similar business, Rapidshare, entered a court case with Gema that resulting in it having to initiate practices to filter songs uploaded by its users. Rulings like these could be the start of the end of the internet as we know it.