Business News Digital Legal

EU Advocate General says YouTube only needs to pass the postal addresses of infringers on to copyright owners

By | Published on Monday 6 April 2020


An Advocate General of the European Court Of Justice reckons that YouTube is not obliged to hand over the email or IP address – or phone number for that matter – of any user accused of uploading copyright infringing content to the video site.

Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe gave this opinion as part of a dispute in the German courts between movie firm Constantin Film and YouTube owner Google.

While most content owners simply issue takedowns against YouTube itself when users upload infringing content – usually via the video site’s ContentID system – there is nothing to stop said content owners also seeking to sue the users directly for copyright infringement. The challenge 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 uses, 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?

After the case had bounced around the German courts a little, the country’s Federal Court Of Justice asked the EU courts for clarification on what European law said on this matter. Which is why Øe was asked for his opinion. He published that opinion last week, stating that the default position when interpreting European directives is to take the “everyday language” definitions of any words, unless the directive advises otherwise.

“There is little doubt that, in everyday language, the concept of a person’s ‘address’, about which the referring court asks in particular, covers only the postal address, as YouTube and Google have rightly submitted”, he then adds. It obviously doesn’t cover phone numbers, he goes on, but it doesn’t cover other kinds of addresses either.

“As I have just noted”, he writes, “in everyday language, the starting point in the interpreting process, the term ‘address’ refers only to the postal address. Therefore, when it is used without any further clarification, that term does not cover the email address or the IP address”. Maybe it should – Øe says he understands why Constantin Film would like it to be so – but “rewriting that legislation falls not to the court, but to the EU legislature”.

Øe’s opinion is just that, it isn’t binding on the EU Court Of Justice. But judges are prone to agree with Advocate Generals, so are likely to say the same to their German counterparts.