This piece has been authored by Jubin Jay, a final year student at National Law University, Odisha (NLUO).
A lot of people use YouTube videos to enhance their online articles or webpages. Some provide a regular link to the YouTube video while some provide with an embedded link of the same. While embedding, the video itself appears on the webpage and the user is not redirected to YouTube, in contrast to the previous case, where it only appeared as a link. Now, this is problematic because someone else’s video appears on one’s own webpage. A lot of people argue that this is similar to using someone else’s work for your gain without their permission, amounting to a copyright violation. However, there is ambiguity and a lot of questions are yet to be answered in such cases to prove an infringement. So, the broader question remains, is embedding a YouTube video legal?
Section 6 (c) of YouTube’s official terms of service reads:
“by submitting Content to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the content in connection with the service and YouTube’s (and it’s successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels. You also hereby grant each user of the service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the service and under these Terms of Service.”
The most significant part in the aforementioned terms is that the owner of the video grants every YouTube user a license to access his content, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform such content as permitted through the functionality of YouTube and its terms of service. In other words, when any owner uploads his video, he has an option to either enable or disable embedding, and since by choosing to leave it enabled, he grants the user a limited license to embed the video.
Based on the Terms of Service as discussed above, one can ideally conclude that if there is an option in the video to embed, then there is nothing illegal in embedding such a video. However, the phenomena of embedding too comes with some conditions and restrictions attached to it. Section 4 (f) of the Terms of Service states, “If you use the Embeddable Player on your website, you may not modify, build upon, or block any portion or functionality of the Embeddable Player, including but not limited to links back to the YouTube website.”
Put simply, an embeddable player is made available on one’s webpage by inserting a code to a website, linking to a video that’s hosted at another location, and surfacing a video player without using any resources from the website itself. However, post this if there is any modification made to the embeddable player as had been generated, Section 4 (f) of the Terms of Service will be attracted. Such conditions and restrictions attached to embedding, can be better understood in light of the observations made by the courts of U.S. and EU in the cases discussed below.
In Flava Works, Inc. v. Gunter the Seventh Circuit Appellate District faced a situation where members of an adult site were listing videos from the paid area of the site on a separate social media bookmarking site. The bookmarking site would then create a video preview with the embedded code. The Court however found that no copy was being made by the social media bookmarking site, thereby resulting in the termination of the infringement claim. Put more succinctly; merely embedding the video on your site does not give rise to liability.
Further, in Perfect 10 v. Amazon the Ninth Circuit made it clear that in situations where just in-line links are concerned, there is absolutely no direct copyright infringement liability.
The ECJ however brought a new dimension to the question of infringement. In BestWater International GmbH v Michael Mebes it was held that that as long as the embedding doesn’t make the video available to new audiences, there is no infringement. In this case, the water filter ad in question had already been available to the entire internet on YouTube, so the court observed that merely embedding it didn’t make it available to any new audiences that previously didn’t have access to it. In conclusion, it does not constitute a public communication within the meaning of Article 3 (1) of the Information Society Directive as it does not appeal to a new public.
However, all of the above cases fail to address a situation when there is embedding of a video which is already infringing. Could this amount to contributory infringement by aiding and abetting?
Judge Posner in the Flava Works Case observes, “myVidster (the defendant) is not an infringer, at least in the form of copying or distributing copies of copyrighted work. The infringers are the uploaders of copyrighted work. There is no evidence that myVidster is encouraging them, which would make it a contributory infringer. If myVidster encouraged or induced that party to upload the infringing video, it would be a contributory infringer to that infringement. But users of myVidster who thereafter merely stream that infringing video are not infringers of the reproduction or distribution rights since they have made no copies.”
The observation made above does seem satisfactory to an extent, however, is very situational in nature as there was no evidence that someone actually made a copy using the link provided. Had users copied the infringing video using the link, the observation made by Judge Posner could have been different. To conclude, proving infringement in cases where a YouTube video has been embedded will depend, for the most part, on the factual situation concerned and will vary from case to case. As technology keeps evolving with time, there can never be a strait jacket formula for proving infringement. In any event, with regard to the question we have raised presently, yes, embedding a YouTube video is legal, as long as the video being embedded is not an infringing video in itself.