Illegal uploading of videos or files to YouTube violates the intellectual property rights of the authors and owners of these files. In this case, the question of YouTube’s obligation to provide information is a recurring theme: do the IP addresses or e-mail addresses of its users have to be disclosed? The ECJ says: No.
The Highest European Court of Justice (ECJ) has therefore issued a landmark ruling on this. The IP address of users of YouTube and Google who upload illegal and infringing videos or files is not part of the ‘address’ in the sense of the relevant EU directive, nor is the user’s email address and telephone number, the ECJ ruled (EU:C:2020:542).
German Constantin Film Verleih vs. YouTube
In the main proceedings, the German company Constantin Film Verleih GmbH (known mainly for the film ‘Fack Ju Göhte’) brought an action before the German courts against YouTube and Google, the parent company of YouTube. YouTube refused to disclose the IP addresses, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of its users to Constantin, even though these users had demonstrably infringed Contantin’s intellectual property rights by illegally uploading videos that had been viewed tens of thousands of times.
German Copyright Law and EU Directive
According to German copyright law, in such a case the injured party has a right to information in accordance with § 101 (2) sentence 1 no. 3 UrhG. This also applies against a person who has rendered services used for infringing activities on a commercial scale.
The information required includes the names and addresses of the corresponding infringers of copyright pursuant to § 101 (3) No. 1 UrhG.
A corresponding EU Directive 2004/48 also provides that “information on the origin and distribution channels of goods or services infringing an intellectual property right shall be provided by the infringer and/or any other person”.
In particular, the referring German court therefore asked the European Court of Justice to interpret Article 8(2)(a) of Directive 2004/48, linking it to the question whether the additional information requested by Constantin Film Verleih (IP addresses, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of YouTube users) falls under the term “addresses” within the meaning of that provision.
ECJ ruling ‘address’ confirms Youtube
The ECJ denied this in its ‘Addresses’ judgment (EU:C:2020:542). An examination of other Union acts relating to the e-mail address or the IP address showed that none of these acts uses the term “address” – without further specification – to designate the telephone number, the IP address or the e-mail address, the Court said. Moreover, the protection of intellectual property was always to be weighed against the general interest of EU citizens.
As a result, the ECJ ruled that, as regards a user who has uploaded files infringing an intellectual property right, the term “addresses” does not refer to that user’s e-mail address and telephone number, nor to the IP address used for uploading those files or the IP address used when he last accessed the user account.
In principle, however, the EU Member States could nevertheless grant a more extensive right to information, the ECJ added, referring to Article 8(3)(a) of Directive 2004/48, subject to the condition that a reasonable balance between the various fundamental rights concerned is ensured and the principle of proportionality is respected.
This judgment therefore confirms that YouTube – and other major online platforms – do not disclose IP addresses, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of their users, even if they have illegally downloaded or uploaded data.
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ECJ judgement ‘address’, EU:C:2020:542
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