A court in Germany has ordered YouTube to pay a “historically high fine” of 100,000 euros ($118,000) for removing a video of a protest against restrictive Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns.
The video in question was filmed in Switzerland last year and uploaded by a German YouTube user. YouTube said the video violated the platform’s policies against so-called COVID-19 misinformation. The video was deleted in late January.
YouTube was ordered to put the video back online in mid-April but did not do so until several weeks later as the platform attempted to argue that the video violated site policies. The delay in complying with the order to restore the video escalated matters. It prompted the German court to issue YouTube the “historically high fine” for the “deliberate and serious” delay.
The Higher Regional Court of Dresden in the state of Saxony in eastern Germany handed down the sentence against YouTube on July 5. The court ordered the company to pay the 100,000 euro fine more than a year after the violation.
“With the historically high fine, the Higher Regional Court makes it very clear that court decisions must be observed without restriction, regardless of whether YouTube assumes a violation of its guidelines or not,” wrote Joachim Steinhofel, one of the attorneys for the plaintiff, in a statement on Twitter.
Steinhofel added that he believes the court’s decision represents a guideline for how freedom of speech cases in Germany and the rest of the European Union that involves the internet can be handled in the future.
A spokesperson for YouTube told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that the company has a “responsibility” to provide its users with “authoritative sources” and “trustworthy information” regarding COVID-19 and to fight so-called misinformation regarding the pandemic.
The company spokesperson added that the decision of the Higher Regional Court of Dresden was just an individual case “which we will respect and will review accordingly.” In the future, the company will review individual videos and enforce its misinformation policies on a case-by-case basis.
This means it is unlikely to change any of YouTube’s censorship policies regarding supposed COVID-19 misinformation on its platform. (Related: YouTube silences prominent epidemiologist for opposing coronavirus lockdowns.)
Representatives from the Higher Regional Court of Dresden have not responded to requests for comments from media outlets.
YouTube continues to remove videos that allegedly spread COVID-19 misinformation
The Higher Regional Court of Dresden argued that YouTube did not articulate its policies regarding so-called COVID-19 misinformation clearly enough for the person who uploaded the censored video. YouTube unsuccessfully attempted to argue that the video violated its COVID-19 “misinformation” policies.
Specifically, the court ruled that YouTube’s standard notice that its user policies may change anytime in the future and without warning was insufficient. Users like the German plaintiff should have been given a new notice regarding the platform’s updated policies regarding so-called COVID-19 misinformation.
YouTube’s ever-shifting site policies have allowed it to remove millions of videos since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The company alleged that these millions of videos violated its misinformation policies.
A recent report from YouTube showed that the company removed more than 11 million videos for supposed COVID-19 misinformation in the second quarter of 2020 alone, nearly doubling the six million it removed in the first quarter.
These kinds of mass censorship operations are widely permissible in the United States, where laws and court rulings protect corporations like YouTube that censor their users.
If the German YouTube user was actually an American, then the company would have been able to take down the anti-lockdown protest video without much trouble, and the user would find it difficult to fight back against the company.