Business News Digital Legal

Judge declines to grant Maria Schneider’s Content ID lawsuit class action status

By | Published on Tuesday 23 May 2023


A US judge has declined to grant class action status to the ongoing lawsuit being led by musician Maria Schneider over who has access to YouTube’s Content ID technology.

In the long-running legal battle, Schneider argues that – while YouTube’s Content ID platform is a decent rights management system – it is only made available to larger rights holders and content aggregators, therefore unfairly creating extra challenges for independent creators and copyright owners.

Those independent creators have to manually monitor and manage the unlicensed use of their content by users on the YouTube platform.

And the manual system provided by YouTube is defective, it’s alleged, meaning that the Google-owned company isn’t fulfilling its obligations under copyright law to ensure that all and any copyright owners can stop the infringement of their works on its platform.

For its part, YouTube argues that it has invested over $100 million developing industry-leading rights management tools. But, given Content ID allows rights owners to block or monetise other people’s videos, it has to be careful who has access to that system. However, independent creators can gain access by working with distributors or aggregators.

Schneider’s original co-plaintiff on the case was removed from the litigation after it emerged that he had tried to game the system in order to gain access to Content ID. Some other copyright owners then joined the case as plaintiffs, they being Uniglobe Entertainment and AST Publishing.

If the lawsuit had class action status, any success in court would benefit other independent creators and copyright owners who have had to manually monitor and manage the unlicensed use of their content on YouTube.

However, judge James Donato has ruled that the case is not appropriate for a class action. That’s on the basis that any one creator’s claim would need to be individually assessed, for example to identify if said creator’s content is actually covered by any of the licences YouTube has in place.

According to Billboard, Donato wrote in his ruling responding to the Schneider side’s bid for class action status: “It has been said that copyright claims are poor candidates for class action treatment and for good reason. Every copyright claim turns upon facts which are particular to that single claim of infringement [and] every copyright claim is also subject to defences that require their own individualised inquiries”.

“Whether YouTube has a licence for a particular work will be a matter of intense inquiry at trial”, he also added. “The answer to this inquiry will depend upon facts and circumstances unique to each work and copyright claimant”.

Donato’s decision on class action status doesn’t stop the litigation from proceeding. And the imminent trial should still provide some interesting insight on how rights management works within the YouTube ecosystem, the responsibilities of YouTube to deal with infringing content and the nature of its licences with the music industry.

Plus there is also an interesting side dispute over the allegation that YouTube allows the removal of important copyright data as content is uploaded.

However, the impact of any ruling in court that might favour Schneider and her co-plaintiffs will be much narrower following Donato’s latest ruling.