Jackson v Universal Music Operations Ltd
Court: High Court, Queen's Bench Division
Judge: HHJ Mackie QC (Sitting as a High Court Judge)
Date of judgment: 6 Feb 2014
Summary: Libel - Malicious falsehood - Responsibility for publication - Internet - YouTube - Defamatory meaning - Statement that copyright claim made
Richard Munden (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Steven Tregear and Guy Morley at Russells for D.
C had posted a video to YouTube, the audio of which featured a copy of Billie Holiday’s famous recording of ‘Strange Fruit’. YouTube’s ‘Content ID’ system recognised the audio as being a track to which UMG Recordings, Inc had asserted copyright. UMG indicated to YouTube that it wished for the video to be removed. YouTube removed the video and replaced it with the words “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by UMG.”
C brought a claim in respect of these words against D, an English company which is part of the Universal Music Group of companies, in libel and malicious falsehood.
D applied to strike out the claim, alternatively for summary judgment, alternatively for a ruling on meaning.
(1) Whether D had published or caused to be published the words complained of;
(2) Whether the words were capable of being defamatory of C.
Granting summary judgment:
(1) D had not published the words complained of, or caused them to be published. It was UMG Recordings, Inc which had made the copyright claim and the operator of YouTube which had published the words complained of. YouTube was not an agent of D. In no sense had D sought or procured the publication concerned
(2) The words complained of were not defamatory. They did not accuse C of actually committing a breach of copyright but rather made clear that there was an unresolved issue as to copyright which had caused YouTube to take down the video. The fact that a copyright claim had been made against someone did not imply any criticism of that person.
Rights holders such as Universal regularly work with YouTube to have material removed from the hugely popular website. In order to avoid liability for copyright infringement YouTube has to act on any indication by rights holders that a video may be infringing. However, YouTube’s policy of publishing a statement explaining why a video has been removed is not a necessary part of that process and not something for which any rights holder can sensibly be held liable.