It’s nothing new, but the role and responsibility of social media platforms when it comes to the behavior of its users is something that will probably be contested until such time as the internet ceases to be a thing, which at this point seems concurrent with the end of humans as a species. Platforms profess to be little more than middlemen and -women, understandable not wanting to be responsible for the behavior of tens or even hundreds of millions of users, most of whom are shorn of the inhibitions that otherwise constrain them in real life. Arrayed on the other side are governments and rightsholders and anyone else troubled by the notion of a digital world largely free of the laws that govern civil society.
The latest skirmish in this ongoing fight is yet again in Europe, with YouTube claiming a victory in a challenge to a copyright infringement case pressed against them by a music producer. The producer, Frank Peterson, took action against YouTube when he discovered that phonograms he holds the rights to were uploaded to the platform. It’s not a unique case to either Europe or this side of the Atlantic: someone who owns something feels that a platform didn’t do enough to prevent the material from being uploaded, or to bring down the offending uploads quickly enough.
This case, however, was complicated by the new guidelines put in place by the European Union under Article 17, a measure passed to reform copyright law in the bloc. Platforms are required to have filters in place to prevent copyrighted work from being uploaded, but there are questions about how effective those filters are, whether they can even be effective, and if it’s worth having them at the risk of stifling legitimate use of copyrighted material and more broadly free expression. Each side has its side clearly staked out, and obvious reasons for that position.
In this particular instance, the EU Court of Justice has come down on the side of YouTube, determining that the platform isn’t liable for uploaded works that violate copyright provided that they are making reasonable efforts to block or remove that content. That might lead one to believe the fight is nearly over, but to paraphrase a famous European, rightsholders have not yet begun to fight. There’s money to be made, or more accurately lost, by means of copyrighted material uploaded to YouTube and other places, and rightsholders aren’t so much concerned about potential free speech implications or impracticalities presented by automated filters. And so long as that’s the case, the fight will continue on.