Google has no legal obligation to remove animal abuse videos on YouTube

Lady justice
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Lady justice

There’s recently been a lawsuit filed by an animal rights group, Lady Freethinker, to try and legally force Google to do more to keep videos of animal abuse off the YouTube website. The lawsuit failed because Alphabet Inc.’s Google is protected by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law, which shields internet platforms from lawsuits when content is posted on that platform by their users i.e. their clients. That is the tentative ruling by Santa Clara Superior Court Judge, Sunil R. Kulkarni. The word ‘platform’ is crucial to this argument. YouTube is not a ‘publisher’ per se.

“Unless more effective screening is put in place, YouTube will continue to disseminate more videoclips filled with hatred, violence and abuse”. – 2006! Daily Mail Historical Archive.

Fake animal rescues of YouTube

Fake animal rescues of YouTube. This one has been on their website for 2 years.

Lady Freethinker argued that Google profits from animal abuse videos such as pythons attacking puppies, which by the way were fake puppy rescue videos with the whole think scripted at the expense of animal welfare. I have complained myself to YouTube administrators for allowing a video of two kittens being ‘murdered’ by suffocation by a deranged boy. I have complained about this video for about two years and if it is deleted by the administrators, another user or the same uploads the same video again where it remains on their website. All you can do is ask YouTube administrators nicely to remove abusive videos and pray ?. It’s the Wild West on the internet.

Lady Freethinker’s claim was couched in reference to state and local laws such as for breach of contract and false advertising.

However, the federal law mentioned above, section 230, states that “no cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any state or local law that is inconsistent with this section,” the judge ordered.

The case is Lady Freethinker v. Google LLC d/b/a YouTube, et al, 21CV390154, Santa Clara Superior Court (San Jose).

I think this argument centres around the current situation which is that websites like YouTube are platforms for users to self-publish their work. YouTube per se and other social media websites are not deemed to be publishers. If they were legally regarded as publishers, then they could be sued. They are just platforms taking a neutral stance with no direct say or control on what is initially published. They make half-hearted attempts to take proactive action to stop animal abuse videos being uploaded but there is no real control over it.

What I find annoying is that YouTube has rules regarding what can be uploaded but when it suits them, they ignore their own rules. I think this is a breach of their own contract. Perhaps a YouTuber should sue YouTube for breach of contract in the American civil courts. Their rules are designed to protect animals and people (in the sphere of animal videos). If they allow animal abuse videos, they can harm people psychologically. There is a potential claim for damages there.

They can take reactive action by removing videos but even that is done rather badly because they are unable to manage the vast quantities of videos uploaded and this applies to social media websites such as Facebook as well. If animal rights groups want to tackle this problem, they will have to lobby governments and campaign for a change in the law regarding the status of social media websites such as YouTube. Then if the Lady Freethinker lawsuit was filed with that difference in place, I think it would succeed.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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11 Responses

  1. Michael McDonald says:

    But you would have to prove the videos are fake. Then you could get the makers of the videos in trouble for animal cruelty and endangerment.

  2. Michael McDonald says:

    but there is a law in the us a federal law that says you can’t profit from animal abuse. So why not sue them in fed court saying that they can’t post ad’s on these video’s and watch them disappear?

    • Frances Hankin says:

      This sounds like a real possibility, and doesn’t youTube also get revenue from monetised channels in addition to ads, which if fraudulent, as so many fake animal rescue sites are, makes them complicit in this fraud?

      • The problem is that is it all but impossible to tackle Google which owns YouTube as they run the Internet effectively. They are immune to attacks unless a country’s government does it which has happened (on tax issues). YouTube administrators don’t comply with their own policies. And they never communicate and don’t give a damn.

  3. Frances Hankin says:

    Yet YouTube does sometimes remove content in response to videos being reported. Something does trigger this response the system, but not often enough. Also wondering whether taking legal action outside of the US make any difference to the outcome of a case? Or is the only recourse down to the police of the country where the abusive content is made/published from to seize computers and enough evidence to prosecute? (I have been reporting hundreds of animal abuse videos for years with about 10/15% being removed after reporting.)

    • Frances, YouTube are a law unto themselves as is Google which owns it. In fact, Google manages the internet. I have complained about animal abuse videos in clear violation of their policies, and they have taken zero action recently. Once they did take action on one false animal rescue. I think it was me who first spotted the fake animal rescue genre.

      But generally, the reporting facility under the videos appears to be a waste of time and an ‘animal abuse washing’ PR stunt.

  4. Kim M Prestholt says:

    Why can’t they shut down these videos they censor speech and political things they disagree with very quickly…

  5. tamara beinlich says:

    🙁 You tube has left up a video of a man standing in the street shooting dogs that are just walking by. For 2 years I’ve reported it. People even cheer in the comments.
    I think the judge is wrong because animal abuse in a felony. By leaving the video up youtube is aiding the abuse and making money from a felony.

    • Yeh, I agree it is terrible. It is completely wrong morally and it should be wrong legally too. These videos encourage animal abuse. And they normalise animal abuse too.

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