United States: California Court Holds That YouTube's Removal Notice Is Not Defamatory

As we have noted previously, YouTube users sometimes object when the online video giant removes their videos based on terms-of-use violations, such as artificially inflated view counts. In a recent California case, Bartholomew v. YouTube, LLC,  the court rejected a user's claim that the statement YouTube posted after it removed her video, which allegedly gave the impression that the video contained offensive content, was defamatory.

Joyce Bartholomew is a musician who creates what she calls "original Christian ministry music." Ms. Bartholomew produced a video for the song "What Was Your Name" and posted the video on YouTube in January 2014. YouTube assigned a URL to the video, which Ms. Bartholomew began sharing with her listeners and viewers. By April 2014, she claims that the video had amassed over 30,000 views.

Shortly afterwards, however, YouTube removed the video and replaced it with the image of a "distressed face" and the following removal statement: "This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube's Terms of Service." The removal statement also provided a hyperlink to YouTube's "Community Guideline Tips," which identifies 10 categories of prohibited content: "Sex and Nudity," "Hate Speech," "Shocking and Disgusting," "Dangerous Illegal Acts," "Children," "Copyright," "Privacy," "Harassment," "Impersonation" and "Threats."

In an exchange between Ms. Bartholomew's counsel and YouTube, it emerged that YouTube had removed the video because Ms. Bartholomew's account had violated Paragraph 4(H) of YouTube's terms of service, which bans the use of automated systems such as "robots" or "spiders" that send "more request messages to the YouTube servers in a given period of time [than] a human can reasonably produce in the same period by using a conventional on-line Web browser." In other words, YouTube alleged, Ms. Bartholomew had artificially inflated the view count for her video.

Ms. Bartholomew sued YouTube for libel based on the removal statement and the hyperlink to the Community Guideline Tips, which she argued had harmed her reputation by implying a "want of character" based on the featured prohibited categories such as sex, nudity, hate speech, etc. YouTube filed a demurrer. The trial court ruled that the removal statement was not libelous, and that the Community Guideline Tips page did not defame Ms. Bartholomew because some of the categories mentioned, such as "Children," "Copyright" and "Privacy," do not necessarily suggest offensive conduct. Ms. Bartholomew appealed, arguing that the trial court's conclusions were erroneous and that both the removal statement and the Community Guideline Tips were defamatory.

The California Court of Appeals examined the hyperlink in YouTube's removal statement, which led to the Community Guideline Tips page. Some of these statements, the court noted, if they were sufficiently directed at Ms. Bartholomew, could constitute libel. However, Ms. Bartholomew had failed to allege "how the hyperlink could be viewed as defaming her personally." Hyperlinks can be used in many different ways, including providing the viewer with more or less specific information about the subject being discussed on the originating page.

Here, the court observed, the Community Guidelines Tips page provided "information more general" than was available on the originating page. An Internet user with a "reasonable working knowledge" of how Internet hyperlinks work would have understood that "no one particular offense could be reasonably read to apply to Bartholomew's video and that the categories applied to the many thousands of videos that YouTube might have had to remove for any number of reasons." Given the generality of the Community Guidelines Tips page, the court observed that Ms. Bartholomew had provided "no theory as to how the generalized statements on the Community Guideline Tips page were ever ascribed in any particular way to her."

The court also examined YouTube's removal statement standing on its own – i.e., the statement "This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube's Terms of Service." The removal statement alleges that Ms. Bartholomew breached the Terms of Services, but a statement alleging a breach of contract is not defamatory per se. To support a defamation claim based on such a statement, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the statement is defamatory by "innuendo" or under a certain reading of the statement, supported by extrinsic facts.

Citing its own precedent, the court held that Ms. Bartholomew had failed to make such a demonstration. Given the breadth of items covered in YouTube's terms of service, which includes three pages of single-spaced, fine print and a privacy policy, the Court held that the removal statement on its own did not subject Ms. Bartholomew to "hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy" or tend to "injure [her] in [her] occupation."

On November 21, 2017, YouTube cited Bartholomew to defend against similar claims in a three-year-old libel suit, Song Fi Inc. v. Google Inc. Much like Ms. Bartholomew, plaintiffs Song Fi and Rasta Rock Opera claimed that Google and YouTube damaged their reputation when YouTube removed their video and posted the removal statement, implying that the video contained improper content.

But, in its summary judgment motion in Song Fi, Google argues "Ms. Bartholomew held that the notice, whether on its own or combined with the guidelines, was not capable of conveying a defamatory meaning and was not a statement 'of and concerning' the plaintiff." The Song Fi court denied Google's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' defamation claim in 2016, but we will be watching closely to see how the court rules on YouTube's summary judgment motion in light of Bartholomew.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Aaron P. Rubin
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions