Who owns a YouTube clip? | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 17.05.2013
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Science

Who owns a YouTube clip?

Embedding videos is part of web culture. We all share, like and post videos, such as YouTube clips. But now, courts are looking into whether this might, in fact, be a case of copyright violation.

Commander Chris Hadfield floats through the International Space Station ISS, playing his guitar in zero gravity and singing the most classic of all astronaut songs, David Bowie's Space Oddity. The video was posted on YouTube on May 12, 2013. Four days later, it had been clicked on more than 12 million times.

YouTube users are not the only ones responsible for the video's lightning circulation; social media, including Facebook and Twitter, played a role, too. Someone notices a clip, likes it and posts it on his Facebook timeline, shares it and attaches it on personal messages. The media jumped on this particular bandwagon; even the more staid German TV news show, Tagesthemen, reported on the video.

A single court case

The end may be near for that kind of hype, however. After Germany's highest court looked into the auto-complete function of Google's search engine, it now has the next big player of the Internet on the agenda: YouTube, and its option to embed YouTube clips on other websites.

Again its a single court case that sparked the whole thing. A company producing water filters had posted a video about water contamination on YouTube. A competitor embedded the video on its own website. The original makers of the clip then wanted to have that banned.

Youtube logo (photo:Uli Deck/dpa)

YouTube videos are shared, liked and embedded by the millions

In a first hearing, the court had already suggested that it might be a case of copyright violation. On Thursday (16.05.2013), the judges were set to hand down their ruling, but they passed the case to Luxembourg, where the European Court  of Justice will now decide whether embedding YouTube clips – also known as 'framing' – is a violation of European copyright law.

Web users are nervous. Should framing be deemed illegal, it could open up a whole new field of profit for lawyers; after all, YouTube clips get shared and embedded by the millions.

Otto Freiherr Grote, a Cologne lawyer specializing in media issues, thinks there will be a more differentiated decision. "This depends on many factors. For instance, you have to distinguish whether a video gets embedded for commercial, or for private use." Also, it would mean that one would need to check whether the video clip is legally on YouTube, he stressed. If the creator of the clip didn't approve it, then the person who embeds or shares it could be in trouble.

Embedding is legally ok

Whoever uploads their clips to platforms like YouTube, Vimeo or Soundcloud usually is okay with having the videos shared elsewhere on the web. An earlier ruling by the German court already stated that uploading a video to YouTube means the user grants the rights to have that clip embedded on other websites.

Embedding videos on a personal website is very easy. For every clip, YouTube offers a so-called embed-code. All you have to do is copy that code and paste it into your website. The clip itself remains where it is – on YouTube. The video gets played on the other website, but in a YouTube window so everyone can clearly identify where it comes from.

Hadfield will keep singing

Grote hopes for a good decision from the judges in Luxembourg and in Germany's highest court in Karlsruhe. He expects that, in future, it will be possible to share YouTube clips on private websites, or social media sites, like Facebook. But he does urge users to be careful when embedding. "It should be clear that it's an embedded video. Also the users have to makes sure that the video is not illegally on YouTube."

In the case of the Hadfield space video, there's no need to be worried, Grote believes. "Its very unlikely that the private posting of videos will be somehow affected by the court decision – even if there might still be risks in those cases as well."

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