Information Superhighway Robbery

So, apparently this is a business model: you trawl YouTube for videos with a decent number of views (not too many, mind you), uploaded by someone that is not a bona fide YouTube star or well-known personality, or part of some content or ad exchange network, and file copyright claims on those videos. But you’re nice about it. You don’t threaten to take down those videos right away, you just give a friendly heads-up that some of the content in those videos is owned by you, and that you are therefore entitled to monetize those videos on behalf of (and instead of) the uploader. No big deal, it’s only fair, right?

Well, granted, it can be. YouTube is obviously a cesspool of blatant and gleeful copyright infringement. I especially like those uploaders who are rather clueless about copyright, and think it’s perfectly fine to rip off and upload someone else’s work, be it a music video or TV show episode or whole movie, as long as they put a disclaimer like “uploaded under fair use” or “no copyright infringement intended” into the video description. I very especially like the second “excuse,” because the cognitive dissonance is so delicious. “I just threw a well-aimed brick through your window, but I totally didn’t intend to do that!” Sure you didn’t. I have a few semi-popular videos on YouTube myself, and it grinds my gears if someone else re-uploads them, in lousy quality and with ads plastered all over. There was one case early on where a re-uploaded video got significantly more views and discussion than my original, and I had to go over there and answer questions. Wasn’t cool.

Anyway, back to topic. While there needs to be some mechanism for copyright holders to assert their rights, the current mechanism seems to be skewed towards appeasing “big content providers,” and seems open to abuse by, well, scum. For the former, exhibit A: “Sony Filed a Copyright Claim Against the Stock Video I Licensed to Them.” There’s really nothing I can add to that except that this is an instance where someone’s livelihood was seriously messed with.

As for (likely) abuse, last night I noticed a Content ID copyright claim on one of my aforementioned semi-popular videos:

When I say “noticed,” I mean that I have no idea how long it’s been there, because nobody felt it necessary to send me a note. YouTube sends me emails about all kinds of stuff all the time (like any time somebody posts a “durr, fake, gay” comment), but this was clearly not deemed important enough to grace my inbox. See, here is how Content ID claims work: the moment one’s posted, revenue from the claimed video is redirected to the claimant. In this case, of course, the joke’s on them, because my videos don’t generate any revenue, ha! At least they don’t generate any revenue for me, that is. If YouTube had added ads to my video on behalf of someone else while this claim was active, I would have blown a fuse. But apparently, as far as I can tell, that didn’t happen.

So, besides a little link next to the video thumbnail saying “copyright claim filed” or somesuch, what else did I have to go on? When I clicked on that link, I got a page showing my video, a non-descriptive name of the claimant, and the sole explanation “visual content, 2:47-4:50.” No indication of what was deemed infringing, and what the original content was. Here’s a fun game: Watch the video, and tell me what copyrights I could possibly be infringing upon during that time window. (Spoiler: it’s exactly the part where I “step outside my body,” so I’m guessing my appearance is someone else’s intellectual property.)

I was also given the option to dispute the copyright claim, which I gladly took. What followed were pages of threatening language explaining all the bad things that could happen to me in response to filing a dispute (immediate video take-down, irrevocable copyright strikes, loss of good standing), decision trees with vague options and no way of going back up a level after finding out that some option didn’t apply to my case after all, etc. If some hypothetical web interface was intentionally designed to discourage using it, this is probably what it would look like.

In the end, I spent more than an hour researching Content ID, reading all the fine print (and fretting over whether somebody might in fact have intellectual property claims on my body), and going through all possible options to find the one that applied most closely to my case — which is, after all, just a high-tech version of someone talking into a camera — and was finally granted the opportunity to write a little essay explaining why I thought this copyright claim was in error. Which I did, with verve, panache, and rhetorical flourishes. OK, I might have overdone it.

And now the punchline: this morning (about eight hours after I filed my dispute), I received a notice that the copyright claim was automatically withdrawn because the claimant had not responded to my dispute within the time limit of 30 days. What the fuck?

The lessons I learned are these: it seems to be easier to file a copyright claim (I’m pretty sure the claimant did not have to write an essay) than to dispute one; there’s probably a good number of recipients who are too intimidated by legalese to file a dispute and decide to just take it; that the result of that may be a slow but non-trivial revenue stream for people with low-enough standards to make a living off that (link features adult themes — wait, did I just link to a copyright-infringing video on YouTube? Darn that hypocrisy!); and that YouTube/Google clearly don’t give a damn either way. I’m expecting to receive a lot more of these things in the future, but now at least I know what to do about it.

2 thoughts on “Information Superhighway Robbery

  1. The system, and the laws behind it, were designed to protect the interests of big corporations; not content creators’, and definitely not the population’s.

    It’s a huge mess.

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