German Court Fines YouTube $118,000 for Removing Video of COVID-19 Protest

YouTube has been fined more than $100,000 by a German court over the removal of a video showing a protest against COVID-19 restrictions.

The Higher Regional Court of Dresden handed YouTube a fine of €100,000, or about $118,000, last week, according to the German paper Welt am Sonntag. YouTube was given the penalty for not following a previous court order to immediately reinstate a video of a protest that was filmed in Switzerland and uploaded by a German user. YouTube said that the video violated its policies against COVID-19 misinformation before deleting it in late January.

While YouTube, as a private company, would be well within its rights to remove any similar videos in the U.S., the German court found that the platform's policy against COVID-19 misinformation was not presented clearly to the person who uploaded the video. Specifically, the court ruled that the platform's standard notice that its user policies can change at any time was insufficient and that users should have been given a separate notice about the COVID-19 policy, instead.

YouTube was ordered to put the video back online in mid-April but did not do so until several weeks later, prompting the court to issue the platform an unusually high fine for the "deliberate and serious" delay.

YouTube COVID-19 Protest Video Fine Germany Court
A German court last week ordered YouTube to pay around $118,000 for failing to quickly comply with an order to reinstate a video showing a protest of COVID-19 restrictions. Logos for YouTube its parent company Google are seen in this picture taken at company headquarters in Mountain View, California on April 14, 2018. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

"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," Joachim Steinhöfel, the plaintiff's attorney, said in a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday.

A spokesperson for YouTube told Welt am Sonntag that the company has a "responsibility" to provide "trustworthy information" about COVID-19 and to fight misinformation amid the pandemic. The spokesperson added that YouTube would continue to review individual videos and enforce its policies on a case-by-case basis.

YouTube's policy against COVID-19 medical misinformation states that the platform does not "allow content that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts local health authorities or the World Health Organization's (WHO) medical information about COVID-19."

The policy includes bans on videos claiming that face masks are "dangerous" or "do not play a role" in preventing transmission of the virus, claims about vaccines that "contradict expert consensus from local health authorities or WHO" and several other types of misinformation about COVID-19.

YouTube removed over 9.5 million videos uploaded around the world during the first three months of 2021 alone, according to the platform's parent company, Google. In Germany, more than 90,000 videos were removed.

The videos were taken down for violating a wide range of company policies in addition to the COVID-19 policy. Most were taken down after being automatically flagged by software, without any human review taking place.

Newsweek reached out to Google for comment but did not hear back before publication time.