Global Freedom of Expression

User v. YouTube

Decision Pending Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting, Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    October 11, 2021
  • Outcome
    Decision - Procedural Outcome, Motion Granted, Decision Outcome (Disposition/Ruling), Injunction or Order Granted
  • Case Number
    28 O 351/21
  • Region & Country
    Germany, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law
  • Themes
    Content Moderation, Content Regulation / Censorship, Digital Rights
  • Tags
    YouTube, COVID-19, Misinformation

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Regional Court of Cologne (Landgericht Köln), Germany, issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting YouTube from deleting a video containing medical information about Covid-19. After a user uploaded a video on YouTube with reports and interviews about Covid-19, the platform deleted the video. YouTube did not provide information about the reasons why it deleted the video. The user requested a preliminary injunction to prevent YouTube from deleting the content. The Court held that YouTube was contractually obligated to upload the user’s video and that its deletion was not justified, as YouTube did not provide any reasons for it.


A user uploaded a 26-minute-long video on the online video-sharing platform YouTube with interviews and reports about Covid-19. The company deleted the video stating that it violated its guidelines on medical misinformation, without specifying the offending content, and issued a warning on the user’s account.

The user applied for a preliminary injunction on October 11, 2021, requesting the Court to prohibit YouTube from deleting the video.

Decision Overview

The central issue for the 28th Civil Chamber of the Regional Court of Cologne was whether YouTube had the right to delete the applicant’s video —which included interviews and reports about Covid-19—and issue warnings on users’ accounts, or whether it was contractually obligated to host the video and remove the warning since it did not specify why the content violated the platform’s community guidelines.

YouTube argued that it deleted the video because it violated the platform’s guidelines on medical misinformation.

At the outset of its analysis, the Court held that the applicant had a claim against YouTube based on the contractual obligation between the parties. According to the contract, the Court argued, YouTube must refrain from deleting videos and from issuing a warning on the user’s account because of the uploaded content. The Court argued that the parties mutually agreed that YouTube provides the possibility of uploading videos. This obligation was violated by the removal of the user’s video.

The Court underscored YouTube’s failure to inform either the applicant or the Court about which passage of the video (allegedly) violated its community guidelines. This made it impossible for the Court to review the decision. For the Court, deleting a video without specifying which specific passage infringed on the platform’s guidelines would only be permissible in the case of “a short video with obvious medical misinformation recognizable at first glance.” [para. 6] Yet, this was not the case since the contested video was very long (26 minutes) and contained many clearly permissible statements.

The Court, therefore, granted the applicant’s preliminary injunction and ordered YouTube to refrain from deleting the contested video and issuing warnings to the applicant.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

In this decision, the Court held that YouTube cannot delete a video without specifying the passages that infringe on the platform’s guidelines. This increases YouTube’s transparency obligations towards users in its content moderation processes. The Court also argued that general and abstract assessments of content, such as the one performed by YouTube, were not sufficient to establish a violation of the platform’s guidelines. This judgment is a good example of jurisprudence that increases the procedural standards for content moderation decisions while refraining from questions of substance.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • Ger., German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch)

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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