GEMA could have crippled YouTube due to copyright

YouTube has had its name tarnished in the past for its lax approach to copyright. Indeed, it was as a direct result of the site's indifference towards respecting copyright rulings that it became part of Google's online empire several years ago. Since then Google has struggled to make YouTube profitable - and things could only get worse thanks to a German court decision made today.

The German court came to the conclusion that Google's service is responsible for content uploaded to it by users. Yes, really. Google Glass seems impressive enough but it seems the giant will have to produce Google Brainwash if they're going to stop people from posting content. This was first covered on ZDNet's London Calling blog, from Zack Whittaker.

If you go on YouTube right now you can find virtually any song you want. In fact, you're more than likely going to find some previously unreleased B-Sides, mixtapes, EPs and the like, if you look hard enough. The flaw is obvious here, isn't it?

Due to people uploading videos to YouTube, the door is now open for anyone with a claim to file a copyright in Germany. They'll win, too, it would seem.

The site could be forced to lose any possibility of making profit for some time more, since they could have to pay royalties. If that happens the floodgates are opened. Not only that but fundamentally, it seems that people simply don't understand how the internet works sometimes.

If YouTube goes down it will be a blow to the internet, for the site is consistently one of the most popular on the entire web. If you ask an average user what they're doing on the net, it'll be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and (occasionally) email, as a general rule.

Continuing with the theme of doom and gloom for YouTube, the site was ordered to install word-based filters alongside its existing filter system, so that copyrighted work would be further protected.

Adding such functionality would greatly slow the upload process, for it would mean another algorithm has to crawl through your video in order to determine whether it's allowed or not. This would prove problematic for the citizen journalists who have taken to YouTube. Citizen journalism has grown more popular on sites such as YouTube in the wake of the Arab Spring and other major events across the world. The Iranian protests a few years ago were driven by video content and information seeping out of the country during its lockdown.

You might be thinking this is targeting a vast number of videos. If only this was the case. GEMA, a German music royalty collecting group, took the site to court over twelve YouTube videos which didn't receive royalties. Twelve videos are enough to hit the entire site, and could potentially remove millions of music videos. The upside is that VEVO videos will be protected, since they are knowingly uploaded to the site. This doesn't soften the blow though, since GEMA represents over 60,000 musicians and authors. Existing copyright filters on YouTube can vary by country, with some countries being region locked. Having discussed it with friends I've discovered that Germany tends to block a great deal of videos, including those from German artists in some cases. Google argues that the existing filters are state-of-the-art to detect and remove content.

Before we continue, perhaps an outlining of who GEMA are is in order. They are the "Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte", or the "Society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights". In 2008 alone the group managed to collect 850 million euros from copyright fees. As for video content being blocked in Germany? That happened in 2009, due to GEMA trying to squeeze YouTube for 12 cents from every streamed video they represent. Rather than asking if it was a joke, YouTube described the possibility as "prohibitive", and blocked videos. At the time of writing, navigating to their page brings up an error message. Whether this is related or not cannot be established at the moment.

If things go into 'worst possible scenario' mode, then Google could have to spend a small fortune to please the copyright holders. It would be a real disappointment if Google did not appeal the decision, and it seems almost guaranteed they will, despite not having a comment at the time. It would not be surprising if the collective company was facepalming the news, for estimates suggest up to sixty hours of video being uploaded every minute.

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