High Court strikes out libel claim brought after YouTube video removed

13 February 2014

In the case of Jackson v Universal Music Operations Ltd (2014), following an application for summary judgment, the High Court struck out the libel claim on the basis that it had no real prospect of success.

Facts

The Claimant (C) is an artist within the entertainment industry and the Defendant (D) is a music Company.

C uploaded a film onto YouTube, a video-sharing website, which was later removed by the host site following a complaint that part of the film’s soundtrack breached copyright. The film was replaced with the message “this video is no longer available due to a copyright claim”.

C issued proceedings against D on the basis that it was D who had contacted YouTube, which had then brought about these words. C claimed that the message had caused him to suffer permanent damage to his reputation, exacerbated by the fact that no distinction had been made between the soundtrack to his film and the video as a whole. C further argued that he had not had adequate time to deal with the material put before him prior to the application hearing.

D made an application for summary judgment on the basis that C had no real prospect of success, based on the following arguments:

  1. D was not responsible for the words posted on the site, which had been chosen by YouTube;
  2. It was in fact D’s company based in the US which had made the initial complaint, not D itself; and
  3. The meaning of the words complained of was simply that there was a copyright claim, not that C had in fact breached copyright, and as such was not defamatory.

Held

The High Court found in favour of D and allowed the claim to be struck out on the grounds that it had no real prospect of success.

In reaching his decision, Judge Mackie QC agreed with D that it could not be liable in circumstances where it had not made the initial complaint nor published the words complained of.

Judge Mackie QC went further to find that the words complained of were not defamatory in any event. He commented that the message had not stated that C was guilty of copyright infringement, but that there was simply an unresolved issue which necessitated the removal of the video.

Judge Mackie QC remarked that to find in favour of C in these circumstances would lead to a situation where all reporting of copyright issues would be libellous.

With regard to C’s argument that he had not been given sufficient time to deal with the application, Judge Mackie QC acknowledged the fact that C had only received D’s skeleton argument the day before the hearing. Judge Mackie QC commented that, in any other situation where this might have had an effect on the outcome of the hearing, it would be in the interests of justice to allow C more time to deal with the material put before him. However, in this case C’s arguments had failed at such a fundamental level that in reality an extension of time would have made no difference to the outcome.

Katie Allard

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