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YouTube doesn’t have to hand over email and IP addresses of infringers, says EU court

By | Published on Friday 10 July 2020


The EU Court Of Justice has ruled that, under European law, websites like YouTube are not obliged to handover to copyright owners the email addresses, IP addresses or phone numbers of users who have uploaded copyright-infringing content. There is, however, an obligation to hand over the postal addresses of said users, if they have that information.

This ruling comes as part of a long-running dispute in the German courts involving movie firm Constantin Film and YouTube owner Google.

While most copyright owners simply issue takedowns against YouTube itself when users upload infringing content – usually via the video site’s Content ID system – there is nothing to stop said copyright owners also seeking to sue the users directly for copyright infringement. Which is what Constantin Film considered doing after movies it controlled the German rights to were posted onto YouTube.

The challenge with that approach, though, is knowing who to sue. It’s generally agreed that courts in Europe have the power to tell YouTube to hand over contact information relating to infringing users, but the debate in the Constantin Film case was what information precisely. The relevant European Union directive just says “names and addresses”. But what kind of addresses?

The German courts bounced the matter up to the EU courts to get clarity on that point. Earlier this year one of the EU court’s advocate generals, Saugmandsgaard Øe, published an opinion on that query, concluding that the use of the word ‘addresses’ in that particular directive only meant a postal address, not anything like an email or IP address.

That was on the basis that, in the absence of specific instructions to do so otherwise, directives should always be interpreted using ‘everyday language’ definitions of any words. Judges in the EU court have now backed that conclusion.

In a summary of its judgement, the court said: “Where a film is uploaded onto an online video platform without the copyright holder’s consent, [the 2004 intellectual property directive] does not oblige the judicial authorities to order the operator of the video platform to provide the email address, IP address or telephone number of the user who uploaded the film concerned”.

It went on: “The directive, which provides for disclosure of the ‘addresses’ of persons who have infringed an intellectual property right, covers only the postal address”.

However, it added, while European law doesn’t oblige courts in the EU to force websites like YouTube to pass on anything more than a name and postal address to a copyright owner, at the same time it doesn’t stop them from doing that if they want to.

The EU court concluded: “Member states have the option to grant holders of intellectual property rights the right to receive fuller information, provided, however, that a fair balance is struck between the various fundamental rights involved and compliance with the other general principles of EU law, such as the principle of proportionality”.

So the whole thing will now return to the German courts, where judges will have to decide whether – under German law – YouTube can be ordered to hand over more than just a postal address to Constantin Film.