A German court has fined video-sharing platform YouTube GBP 85,000 for removing footage of large protests in Switzerland during the COVID-19 pandemic.
YouTube was fined by the Higher Regional Court of the city of Dresden in the German state of Saxony for deleting footage of huge anti-lockdown protests in Switzerland shot by eingeSCHENKt.tv.
The defendant’s lawyer, Joachim Nikolaus Steinhofel, 58, spoke to Newsflash in an exclusive interview so the motivation for the case was clear: “Defending freedom of speech against Big Tech! Article 5 of our constitution guarantees this fundamental human right, as the First Amendment of the US constitution does in the United States.
“Some social media outlets however believe that some non-elected officials in Silicon Valley have the prerogative to determine the communication standards of 2 billion people. That is not the case. So-called ‘community standards’ do not override constitutional law.”
“Social media companies have a long history of removing content that is legal because they disagree with the opinions expressed in said content.
“The freedom to do business also has value under the German constitution but when these two values – the freedom to do business and the freedom of expression – collide, a determination has to be made.
“Freedom of speech is always much more important and a constitutional right of the citizens of this country.
“This outweighs the interests of the social media companies.
“While freedom of speech under the constitution is largely legislation to protect the citizen from the state, the monopoly status of social media companies means that they are also subject to the same constitutional rights and bound by it.
“The social media companies have their community standards but German law overrides that, and they had to learn that the hard way.
“Our law firm has a long history of successfully taking on social media companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. For discriminating against content they do not like, for erasing post that are legitimate and, last but not least because they fact check opinions, which is absurd. You can fact check a fact but you cannot fact check an opinion.
“This is the first time a social media company has been fined such a high amount – 100,000 euros – for erasing the content a user has legitimately published and not obeying the injunction. In this sense it is a landmark ruling and sends a clear message to Google, YouTube, Facebook et al.
“Speaking about whether or not Google could challenge this ruling in a higher court or is if it was final, Steinhofel said: “This is final. If they don’t [pay the fine], their managing directors can go to jail.”
The user’s video was deleted because of the tech giant’s ‘Policy on Medical Misinformation about COVID-19’.
Additionally, YouTube failed to re-upload the video immediately after the court demanded they take action on 20th April 2020.
Instead, the company did not comply with the decision until three weeks later on 14th May 2020, which according to the authorities it was already a serious violation and they stepped in to enforce it.
Therefore, the court fined YouTube EUR 100,000 (GBP 85,000) on 5th July 2021.
The 58-year-old lawyer added: “With the historically high fine, the Higher Regional Court makes it very clear that the court decision must be observed without restrictions, regardless of whether YouTube assumes a violation of its guidelines or not.”
In addition, a YouTube spokesperson told local media (Welt): “We have a responsibility to connect our users with trustworthy information and to combat misinformation during COVID-19.”
The spokesperson also said: “This is a decision on a case-by-case basis that we respect and will review accordingly.”