Similar to other sites that rely on user-generated content, Facebook has to battle a constant stream of unauthorized copyright material.
When it comes to targeting infringement, Facebook has rolled out a few anti-piracy initiatives in recent years. The company has a “Rights Manager” tool that detects infringing material automatically. In addition, it also processes some takedown requests manually.
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Not all of these notices result in a takedown. For a variety of reasons, Facebook may choose not to intervene. In Italy, this resulted in a drawn-out legal battle which has now come to a conclusion at the Court of Rome.
The case in question was filed by Mediaset, the media conglomerate founded by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Mediaset noticed that links to copyrighted clips of the cartoon “Kirarin Revolution” were posted on Facebook.
The actual content was hosted by YouTube, but Mediaset’s legal team went after Facebook instead. It asked the social network to remove the postings of a particular Facebook group, which were shared with derogatory comments about the people involved in the show.
This week the Court of Rome ruled that Facebook is indeed liable for failing to remove the copyright-infringing hyperlinks. The company was ordered to pay €9,000 in damages as a result. As Facebook is also held liable for defamation, the total damages add up to €35,000.
While the damages amount is not groundbreaking, for Mediaset this was a matter of principle.
TorrentFreak spoke to Mediaset lawyer Alessandro La Rosa, who handled the case together with colleagues at the Previti law firm. The Court of Rome’s order shows intermediaries such as Facebook can be held liable when they fail to respond in copyright infringement allegations.
“Despite Facebook’s role as a passive hosting provider, in this case, it’s obliged to take down and prevent access to illicit information uploaded on its website. The provider is expected to carry out its economic activity with the due diligence that’s reasonably expected to identify and prevent the reported illegal activities,” Mr. La Rosa tells us.
Mediaset sent the first notice regarding the infringing activity in 2010, but Facebook decided not to take any action at the time. Although the offensive group was identified, the takedown requests didn’t include a link to the infringing content, Facebook argued.
The Court considered this defense but concluded that a link to the infringing hyperlink isn’t necessary. Facebook was alerted to the group and the alleged activities and could have taken action based on this information.
“According to the Court, the identification of URL is only technical data which doesn’t coincide with the individual harmful content present on the platform, but only indicates the ‘place’ where this content is found and, therefore, isn’t an indispensable prerequisite for its identification,” Mr. La Rosa says.
It’s worth noting that Mediaset never attempted to remove the actual infringing clip from YouTube. Mediaset mostly wanted Facebook to deal with the Facebook group which posted the infringing material in a defamatory context.
Mediaset is happy with the outcome according to its legal team. Since the verdict is partly based on EU law, Mr. La Rosa believes that it will help other rightsholders to make a case against Facebook and similar platforms going forward.
Facebook is currently considering whether to file an appeal. The company can easily pay the damages, but it may be worried about the broader implications of the ruling.
“We are examining the decision of the Court of Rome,” a Facebook spokesperson told Adnkronos in response, adding that it takes the protection of copyright holders “very seriously”.