Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prosecuting Youtube

Let me preface this article with the following statement. 

I firmly believe that content creators have an undeniable right to profit from their work. 

That said, I do have a problem with a copyright system that allows "owners" (which are usually not the content creators) to assert claims on anything they "believe" to be infringing without question by spineless "services" like YouTube

I also have a major problem with services that employ a hostile process for redress of the "accused."   
You're guilty with little opportunity to prove your innocence.  It shows up in dire legal verbiage designed to scare away any challenge and immediate penalties that effectively cripple the medium for the accused user.  

In short, on YouTube a copyright strike makes you guilty until proven innocent.  It's a  process that demands all but an admission of "guilt" before allowing you to do anything further on the service while the "infringement" is active.  In the end unless you live with a copyright attorney it's virtually impossible to mount an effective "defense."

So in case you haven't guessed, I just had another run in with YouTube but this one put the proverbial nail in the coffin...

I'd been using the service (notice the tense there) for over 3 years and had hosted almost 300 videos at one point.  I have an active adsense account that allowed me to participate in a revenue sharing agreement with YouTube by allowing them to place ads in my content.  A mutually beneficial arrangement although the benefit was decidedly slanted toward YouTube.

Over the years I'd dealt with a few copyright claims for music and game footage but none were ever elevated to the level of being an outright DMCA copyright violation.  My response was fairly routine.  

I'd either remove the "alleged" offending content if I was feeling generous or if I felt the claim invalid I'd contest it with varying degrees of success.  Over the years I had actually won a few disputes and got the so-called "owners" to back off.  If I lost I usually just deleted the offending video and was done with it.

I never intentionally tried to infringe anyone's copyright but if somebody thought I was trying to take their bone I wasn't going to risk any of my dogs fighting in a rigged game. 

But this was different...

The videos in question were about 2 years old and were simply some footage of a friend of mine testing Windows 8 Enterprise Evaluation edition in a VM.  

There was nothing about the videos that was a privileged information even when they were initially posted.  In fact I never saw anything obvious in Microsoft's EULA that mentioned a restriction on recording footage of the OS.

Unfortunately for me, Microsoft decided yesterday that it didn't like seeing footage of someone actually using their operating system and subsequently filed a take down demand with YouTube.  

Of course that's just supposition as YouTube almost never informs you of the exact "infringement" leaving you to guess.  Only recently have they began testing of an editing tool capable of removing alleged copyrighted content identified by their ContentID system.  Making every upload a coin toss...

Which means anyone who chooses to show a Windows desktop in their video could soon find their content ripped off of YouTube without warning, receive a copyright strike and never know why.

To me, this is nothing short of abuse of the copyright system.  It's bad enough that perpetual copyrights have become the norm effectively shutting anything remotely commercial in the past 50 years out of the public domain.  Now anything that even resembles or has elements of a copyrighted work can be suppressed. 

We're not talking about someone posting some unreleased Hollywood Blockbuster or the latest music video featuring Beyonce's... assets. 

It's about corporate bullying facilitated by a broken copyright system with lapdogs like YouTube doing their bidding. 

And I've had enough...

YouTube always sides with the accuser and as I already mentioned you're given feeble mechanisms for rebuttal. 

This latest insult was the final straw and my response was to delete the entire channel.  I'd rather sacrifice 3 years of work than suffer the Scarlet Letter foisted on me.    

Now some may say I'm in the wrong and list the myriad of ways a copyright holder can claim the exclusive right to distribute anything related to their "property."

Perhaps as things are now that's so but again I reiterate, this was not content that denied anyone their payday.

I like analogies so let's try one that is a little less ambiguous than a video of some geek clicking around a  Windows desktop for an hour...

Imagine you've just bought a brand new car.  It's the first one you've ever had and it's exactly what you wanted.  You're bursting with pride and want to show it off to all your friends and family on the Internet. 

So you record a video, spend hours editing it till it's perfect, upload it to YouTube and send everyone a link who cares to have it.

A month goes by and suddenly your video gets a takedown notice and you get a copyright strike against your account.

Why?  Because the manufacturer of your brand new car claims that they have the exclusive right to any  exhibition of it. 

Seem ridiculous?  It is but that's how the copyright system currently works.  All an "owner" has to do is make a claim and YouTube will dutifully begin prosecuting you.

Which is why I've deleted the channel and removed all the content.

It's bad enough that Google's acquisition of YouTube has resulted in the mass suffering of its users by herding everyone into Google Plus whether they wanted it or not.  

Add in constant attacks by prepubescent teens and quasi-sociopaths determined to destroy your self esteem and your dreams of PewdiePie fandom soon evaporate.

All of that I can deal with.  When you put your stuff out there for all to see you learn to develop a thick skin. 

But when I get branded as a criminal with YouTube as proxy Judge, Jury and Executioner to pass "sentence" it's a step too far. 

YouTube's copyright enforcement system is flawed, ambiguous and to my mind designed that way.  

Hiding behind the shield of "Safe Harbor" they fail to define what constitutes an "infringement" in order to profit off the legitimate work of millions of YouTube creators.  At least until such time as someone makes a claim against you be it legitimate or otherwise.  Leaving a bewildered user base potentially branded as criminals without recourse.

This is one content creator that's had enough.

I'm tired of the constant badgering of copyright trolls with YouTube's blessing and no recourse.  I'm tired of finding my videos mysteriously losing monetization without warning or reason.  I'm tired of YouTube's flawed "ContentID" system throwing innocent users into copyright disputes based on false positives. 

But ultimately, I'm just tired of participating in an abusive relationship.  

Or maybe I'm just tired of writing about A-holes...


Apparently I wasn't the only one getting screwed over by Microsoft and thousands of other YouTubers including some Microsoft employees suffered the same treatment at the hands of a 3rd party marketing agency called "Marketly." They decided to slap a takedown notice on just about anyone with "Windows" in their video's title.  

When I checked my account today, I no longer found a copyright strike although I'm unsure whether that was because I deleted the channel or the takedown was released.  I will risk uploading the same "offending" videos in a new channel focused on IT this week and see what happens.