YOUTUBE could be forced to pay a huge royalties bill after a German court ruled that the video sharing site must do more to stop users uploading copyrighted material.
The Hamburg court decided that the Google-owned YouTube is ultimately responsible for the content that users post, and that it should do more to stop it happening in the first place.
The court wants filters installed to automatically detect when users try to post music clips whose rights are held by German royalty collection group, Gema.
YouTube’s existing policies claim the site is simply a platform for users to upload material. When YouTube is informed about copyright violations, however, it says it removes the related content from the site as soon as possible.
It is estimated that 60 hours of material is uploaded to the site every minute, and the introduction of any filtering, either automatic or manual, could slow that process down significantly.
Gema represents approximately 60,000 German musicians and song writers, but it brought a test case based on just seven clips posted to the site. Although YouTube had held talks about royalties with Gema, they broke down in 2010.
If YouTube is subsequently forced to pay royalties on all the material it hosts, however, the bill would run into many millions of euros.
In the UK, YouTube is attempting to fill the void that sites such as MySpace have left, and has recently run a new advertising campaign to point users’ attention to the artist channels on YouTube and the range of music videos available on the site.
The site is still trying to reposition itself as the home of professionally-made content online, in a bid to turn a profit from attracting more lucrative advertising. It remains the most popular user-generated video-sharing site in the world, and fans routinely use music for which they don't own the rights as soundtracks to their own videos.
Google said it was preparing a response to the German ruling.