Premier League blows whistle on YouTube

The FA Premier League has launched a legal class action against YouTube, claiming it was illegally hosting thousands of clips of top-flight football action.

The Premier League has called on other publishers – especially from the music industry – to join it in the action against the video-sharing online phenomenon, which could have great effect in laying down legal parameters for the worldwide web.

The German football Bundesliga is believed to be among those considering also attaching its name to the action, along with other sporting, music and media rights holders. Yesterday Cherry Lane Music Publishing, which administers more than 65,000 copyrights including those of Elvis Presley, John Denver and the Black Eyed Peas, joined the legal action alongside the French football and tennis federations. Cherry Lane also has partnerships with the NFL and World Wrestling Federation.

Cherry Lane’s chief executive, Peter Primont, said his company was being “held hostage” by YouTube in its efforts to exploit new digital platforms on behalf of its clients.

The legal case, filed in New York, is rapidly becoming the focal point for a showdown between the website, which was bought by Google in a $1.65 billion deal last November, and copyright holders who claim it is profiting at their expense.

The Premier League is concerned that it could undermine the carefully created rights model that brings in billions for its clubs – £2.7 billion from its most recent deals.

“The internet is increasingly important as a medium for distribution of entertainment, sports and other content, but nothing gives YouTube the right to build its business based on the hard work of others without their permission and without payment,” said a spokesman.

It argues that Google should use its technology to monitor clips before they are posted to the site to remove those that breach its copyright, rather than waiting for them to be flagged up by rights owners.

Hundreds of thousands of bootlegged football clips, from Diego Maradona’s mazy 1986 run against England to almost every Premier League goal scored last season, are available through the site.

Google has argued that the case, if successful, could set a dangerous precedent for the way the internet is policed and has called it an attack on “artistic expression”.