FRANKFURT Google Inc's YouTube and similar online music and video services may face a hefty royalties bill in Germany after a Hamburg court ruled in favor of copyright owners in a landmark case on Friday.
The court said the website was responsible for the content its users published and forced it to take down copyrighted clips.
Friday's ruling comes less than a month after a U.S. appeals court dealt Google a major setback by reviving lawsuits from Viacom Inc, the English Premier League and various other media companies over the use of copyrighted videos on YouTube without permission.
The suit in Hamburg, for allegedly infringing the copyright on seven music clips, was brought against YouTube in 2010 by German royalty collections body GEMA and several other groups handling music rights.
YouTube argued it merely provided the technical framework to publish content and was not responsible for monitoring videos and music clips for possible copyright violations, but the court disagreed.
It said while YouTube did not have to proactively trawl through its site in search of possible copyright violations, it must remove clips at the request of the rights holder.
"We welcome this decision," a spokesman for Google in Germany said, saying the court's move created legal certainty for both uploading sites and the people who use them.
A spokesman for GEMA said: "This in an important partial victory."
GEMA, which says it represents more than 64,000 songwriters and musicians, demands that music-on-demand platforms which stream music to users for free and are financed by advertisements pay just over 10 percent of their music revenues, plus an additional per-stream fee.
YouTube says some 60 hours of video are uploaded to its site every minute, and more than 3 billion hours of video are watched on the platform each month.
Recent lawsuits have centered on a crucial issue for media companies: how to win internet viewers without ceding control of TV shows, movies and music.
But a push for better legal protection of artists' and media companies' rights has met opposition from those who fear tighter regulation will curb their freedom to download movies and music for free and encourage internet surveillance.
Earlier this year, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Europe to protest against an international anti-piracy agreement.
One vocal group opposing the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is Germany's Pirate Party, which came out of nowhere last year and according to a recent poll has overtaken the Greens to become the third strongest political grouping in the country.
The arrest of Kim Dotcom, a German national who founded online file-sharing site Megaupload.com, earlier this year is the most prominent recent case of authorities cracking down on copyright infringement.
Google said on Friday it was prepared to resume negotiations with GEMA to seek an agreement on the use of copyrighted content. GEMA and YouTube held talks from April 2009 until the suit was filed in September 2010, with no result.
Other online services have said GEMA's demands are unreasonable and make it too hard to make a profit by distributing music and videos online.
Music streaming site Grooveshark, which was sued by record company EMI Group Ltd in January, pulled out of Germany earlier this year claiming GEMA demanded unreasonably high royalty fees.
File-sharing site RapidShare was told by a German court in March that it has to be more proactive in ensuring users did not make any copyrighted content available to others.
($1 = 0.7609 euros)
(Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by David Cowell and David Holmes)