Way back in 2006 -- not all that long after video sites like YouTube and DailyMotion began -- we raised the simple question: is embedding infringing content infringing itself
? We noted how problematic it was to argue that embedding was infringing, while also noting that it was far from a settled issue. Over the years since then, the issue has come up many, many times. Viacom raised it
against YouTube. Bloggers got accused
of infringement just for embedding a YouTube video. The MPAA went after
sites for embedding videos. And, more recently, with the rise of "streaming" sites, many sites targeted for takedowns or domain seizures don't host any content at all, but merely embed from other sites. But still, that legal question has been in limbo: is it really infringing to merely embed
some content that is hosted elsewhere? Two years ago, in the 7th Circuit appeals court, Judge Richard Posner somewhat vehemently rejected
the idea that embedding was infringing in the Flava Works case (though, for slightly odd legal reasons). Around the same time, there was a court case in the Netherlands that went the other way, saying that embedding could be infringing
TorrentFreak, however, now lets us know that in an important ruling from the EU Court of Justice (responding to a request from a German court), it has been declared that, under EU law, embedding is not infringing
The Court argues that embedding a file or video is not a breach of creator’s copyrights under European law, as long as it’s not altered or communicated to a new public. In the current case, the video was already available on YouTube so embedding it is not seen as a new communication.
“The embedding in a website of a protected work which is publicly accessible on another website by means of a link using the framing technology … does not by itself constitute communication to the public within the meaning of [the EU Copyright directive] to the extent that the relevant work is neither communicated to a new public nor by using a specific technical means different from that used for the original communication,” the Court’s verdict reads.
This raises an awful lot of questions about the efforts by law enforcement to completely shut down streaming sites, most of which don't host content of their own at all. Considering how many of the "rogue" sites that the industry loves to attack as being evil and insists must be shut down do nothing more than embed, it will be interesting to see what comes next. If I had to guess, industry folks and the City of London Police will keep taking down those sites, and many won't bother fighting back. But it seems like if a few sites really fought back there could be some interesting legal rulings in response.
: Still waiting for an English translation of the ruling to come out, but IPKat has a good post noting that it's somewhat unclear
if this ruling includes the embedding of infringing works, or only authorized works. It sounds like that particular issue was avoided by the court -- even though there are claims that the video in question in this lawsuit was uploaded without authorization in the first place:
In the national proceedings in BestWater, the claimant has been claiming that its film [a 2-minute long commercial] was uploaded onto Youtube “without its permission”. If and to which extent the work had been communicated by the right owner itself on any other website is not clear by reading the decisions of the Bundesgerichtshof or the CJEU, and neither is the issue of whether the work was subsequently uploaded onto Youtube with the permission of the copyright owner. So the facts of the case remain vague in this respect. The CJEU’s reasoning that there is “in particular” no “communication to the public” if the work is made available “with permission”… (para 16. See to this effect Svensson, paras 25 - 28) does not really help solving these uncertainties.
In short, the court ruling is not entirely clear on the embedding of infringing videos, meaning that there will likely need to be another case before this question is really answered.