A French court has ruled that YouTube was not responsible for large amounts of copyright protected films and TV shows uploaded illegally to its site.

In 2008, major French broadcaster TF1, brought an action against YouTube claiming €141 million in damages on the basis that YouTube had allegedly hosted TF1’s shows, films and interviews without the consent of the broadcaster, including Grey’s Anatomy and Oscar-winning film La Vie En Rose.

The Tribunal de Grande Instance found that YouTube is not responsible for filtering videos that infringe copyright.  Nor is the website obliged to control uploaded content.  The court did find, however, that YouTube is required to take measures to remove pirated content once a copyright owner notifies it of an infringement. The decision is in contrast to one delivered by a German Court in April 2012 that ruled YouTube was liable for music videos illegally posted on the site and, in that case, was ordered to install filters to identify when certain music videos are being uploaded.

Christophe Muller, Google’s head of YouTube partnerships for southern Europe, said the French result would permit YouTube to continue to help French artists reach their audiences.  TF1, on the other hand, is currently deciding whether to appeal the decision.

This case could be significant not only for similar cases currently on foot against YouTube – including one in the US brought by media giant Viacom and the English Premier League seeking US$1 billion in damages – but also for other content-sharing sites…

The newest, popular kid in the content-sharing playground is Pinterest, which allows users to share their favourite photos and images with friends on a virtual pinboard.  Of course, the result is a lot of copyright infringement by users.  The point was made in February this year when Kristen Kowalski  (an American professional photographer and corporate lawyer no less) blogged that Pinterest etiquette encourages users to infringe copyright because “Pin Etiquette” - as stated on the Pinterest website at that time - discouraged users from self-promotion i.e. discouraged users from “pinning” photos they have taken themselves.  Kowalski noted that, at the same time, Pinterest’s terms of use expressly prohibited users from pinning a photo that does not belong to the user.  So how does someone comply with the etiquette, but not infringe copyright?

Interestingly, after Kowalski’s blog post went viral, she received a call from Pinterest CEO Ben Silberman, who acknowledged that Pinterest is experiencing “growing pains” and vowed that “changes are coming”. And, sure enough, in March 2012 Pinterest changed the wording of its “Pin Etiquette” page by removing the reference to “self-promotion”, and in April 2012 new Terms of Use were introduced which arguably make it clearer to users what their obligations are regarding other people’s work. One distinguishing aspect of Pinterest is the ability for third party websites to opt in or opt out. If a website consents to their content being ‘pinned’ they have the option of adding a “Pin it” button to their site. Alternatively, if a website does not consent, Pinterest can provide a code to the site that prevents “Pinning”.  But will the updates to Pinterest’s policies change the way people use the site? And will websites opt in or out of Pinterest as matter of course? Let’s wait and see.

As Pinterest grows up, it will face the same problems we all do – making money, keeping it legal, and keeping it real.