YouTube wins landmark European copyright case

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The Independent Online

Google has won a significant copyright battle in Spain related to its YouTube website, calling the legal ruling a "clear victory for the internet and the rules that govern it".

A federal court in Madrid yesterday dismissed charges of copyright infringement lodged against the video-sharing service by the Spanish broadcaster Telecinco. The decision will reverberate around Europe and follows a similar win in the US in the summer. Sources close to Google said the ruling meant other high-profile sites such as Facebook, and even internet providers including BT and Virgin Media, could breathe a sigh of relief.

Telecinco brought its action against YouTube in 2008, saying the website should be held liable when users uploaded clips of TV shows that infringed its intellectual property rights. YouTube argued that more than 24 hours of video were loaded on to its website every minute and it was unable to monitor everything for potential copyright breaches.

The court, in effect reinforcing the Europe-wide E-Commerce Directive, agreed and pointed out that YouTube already offered a system that enabled companies such as Telecinco to identify and report uploaded material that infringed their copyright.

Mark Owen, of the law firm Harbottle & Lewis said: "This is an important judgment. It is the first of its kind in Europe involving YouTube, and it is a straw in the wind for how these cases will play out in European courts."

In a statement after the verdict, a spokesman for YouTube said: "This decision reaffirms European law which recognises that content owners, not service providers like YouTube, are in the best position to know whether a specific work is authorised to be on an internet hosting service.

"If internet sites had to screen all videos, photos and text before allowing them on a website, many popular sites – not just YouTube but Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and others – would grind to a halt."

In June, Viacom's claim for $1bn damages over alleged copyright abuses was dismissed by a New York judge under US "safe harbour" rules.