EU Court Advisor: Platforms Like YouTube Not Liable for User Content

A European court advisor has said that platforms like YouTube are not automatically liable for the actions of their users.

In recent months, the question over the liability platforms take on when a user can upload content onto their platform has cropped up in a number of occasions. There is the proposed class action lawsuit being filed in Canada against Facebook, for instance. In the US, there is the EARN IT legislation to name a second example. Generally speaking, the sensible answer should be “no, platforms are not directly liable for unlawful content being posted as long as reasonable moderation steps are taking place.”

Apparently, the question was put forward in court again in Europe. A court advisor has made an opinion that isn’t really all that surprising to a number of European digital rights observers. Platforms are not automatically liable for the actions of their users on their platforms. From Yahoo! News:

Google’s YouTube and other online platforms are not liable when users illegally upload copyrighted works onto their platforms, but rightholders can ask for injunctions against the companies, a European Union Court of Justice adviser said on Thursday.

EU judges, who have followed such opinions in four out of five cases, rule on the issue in the coming months.

Existing EU rules exempt YouTube and its peers from such responsibility when they are told of violations and remove them, Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe said in a non-binding opinion relating to two cases before the court.

“As EU law currently stands, online platform operators, such as YouTube and Uploaded, are not directly liable for the illegal uploading of protected works by the users of those platforms,” he said.

“Otherwise, there would be a risk of platform operators becoming judges of online legality and a risk of ‘over-removal’ of content stored by them at the request of users of their platforms in so far as they also remove legal content,” he said.

It is widely expected that the courts will agree with the assessment that platforms are not automatically liable for the actions of their users. If anything, this will cement the protections platforms will have.

If anything, this shows just how much of a worldwide consensus such thinking has. Trying to blame platforms for the actions of the users is only going to result in severely hamstringing those platforms. It also deters future innovation in the online world. With us being well within the digital age, this is the last thing countries and continents want to have. If a website can’t operate in a certain region, they’ll operate elsewhere. In turn, all the spinoffs and innovations that come with it will leave with it. The end result is that such a region will simply get left behind as technology moves forward.

Some of the more anti-technology minded voices like to argue that society shouldn’t be giving online platforms so-called “preferential treatment”. The thing is, a web service is very different from more traditional forms of entertainment such as television. Web services tend to be a two way medium whereas television is a one-way medium. You simply have to treat such platforms differently from a regulatory standpoint because their very nature is very different from a number of other mediums.

It seems that there is very little appetite in Europe to risk being left behind in the digital age. Barring any major surprises in court, that likely is going to continue.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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