EU Court Limits Disclosure of Data for Video Piracy Claims

A YouTube sign is shown across the street from the company’s offices in San Bruno, Calif., in April 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — YouTube only has to hand over the postal addresses of people who illegally uploaded movies onto its video platform, not their email or IP addresses, the European Union’s top court held.   

In Thursday’s ruling, the European Court of Justice only partially agreed with German film company Constantin Film, who sued the Google-owned video-sharing platform for the personal data of users who had uploaded the movies after YouTube refused to hand over the information. 

The dispute hinges on the definition of “address” in a piece of 2004 EU legislation, known as the Enforcement Directive, which maintains intellectual property rights in the 27-member political and economic union.  

“The term ‘addresses’ contained in that provision does not cover…his or her email address, telephone number and IP address used to upload those files or the IP address used when the user’s account was last accessed,” the five-judge panel found. 

During pleadings in the case in February, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, argued that the Enforcement Directive didn’t intend to reference email or IP addresses when it used the term “address” in the text. Constantin Films rebuffed this argument, arguing the purpose of the legislation was to identify violators of intellectual property rights and that the word “address” has a broad meaning. 

The Luxembourg-based court found that, in other EU legislation, the wording specifies email addresses or IP addresses, but the Enforcement Directive does not. An IP address is a series of unique numbers assigned to electronic devices when they connect to a network. 

Constantin Film’s request for the email addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses of the users was denied by the California-based company and a lower German court sided with the tech giant. Constantin Film appealed and the German court referred the matter to the EU high court. 

“The usual meaning of the term ‘address … covers only the postal address, that is to say, the place of a given person’s permanent address or habitual residence. It follows that that term, when it is used without any further clarification…does not refer to the email address, telephone number or IP address,” the court ruled.  

A magistrate for the court held in a nonbinding opinion earlier this year that YouTube wasn’t obligated to hand over any information about users. Though not required, rulings from the Court of Justice often follow the same legal reasoning as advisory opinions.

It’s unclear whether YouTube even has the users’ postal addresses. That information isn’t typically required when registering for an account. 

Action thriller “Parker” was uploaded in June 2013 and was viewed more than 45,000 before being removed by YouTube in August of that year. The horror parody “Scary Movie 5” was first uploaded in September 2013 and viewed 6,000 times before being removed a month later. Another user uploaded it again in September 2014 and it was watched 4,700 times before it was removed three weeks later. Constantin Film owns the rights to distribute those movies in Germany. 

The case will now return to the German court for a final ruling. 

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