YouTube will pay copyright court costs for a few users–not because it’s right–but to protect Google’s bottom line
YouTube said on Thursday that it would pick up the legal costs of a handful of video creators that the company thinks are the targets of unfair takedown demands. It said the creators it chose legally use third-party content under “fair use” provisions carved out for commentary, criticism, news and parody.
You’ve probably read a lot about “fair use” lately. It’s the Google-funded (EFF) Electronic Frontier Foundation’s mantra and if the folks there had their way, pretty much everything and anything would be considered “fair use.” Fair use an important legal doctrine and when applied properly (criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research) is not an infringement of copyright. However, these days, too often it’s used as a disingenuous defense for copyright theft.
The tech-funded campaign to turn villains into victims
When a court recently ruled that a snippet of a Prince song playing in the background of a YouTube video in the notorious Dancing Baby case was indeed “fair use,”it gave a boost to efforts to use fair use as a cudgel against rights holders who legitimately assert their rights using the DMCA takedown process.
Note that the actual video at the center of this case was reposted after the uploader sent a counter-notice. The only reason the case ended up in court was because the uploader, Stephanie Lenz, filed suit and the only reason she did so was because she was bankrolled by the EFF. The EFF saw it as an opportunity to advance its Google-funded agenda. As Terry Hart noted in 2010 on his Copyhype blog:
Luckily, our society has survived the brief time when Lenz’s video was not available to the world. But does this episode only highlight the DMCA’s sword of Damocles hanging over free speech and creativity? Or is it just another example of the cries of internet freedom fighters that the sky is falling as content industries adapt to technological changes? I think it’s the latter: despite the elevation of this dancing baby video to a cause célèbre, our freedom to speak is not threatened, and any “burden” the DMCA places on users uploading content is almost illusory.
With this YouTube gambit–whichone can imagine that EFF is chomping at the bit to find yet another test case to take to court in an effort to expand the definition of fair use beyond those prescribed by current copyright law.
At last weeks House Judiciary committee copyright roundtable in Santa Clara the term “fair use” was bandied about repeatedly. At some point a panelist complained that bogus DMCAs made up more than half the takedowns sent. NOT TRUE!
Legit DMCA takedowns on Google outnumber false ones by a huge margin–97% to 3%.
The EFF and their compatriots routinely like to assert that every day, everywhere, poor innocent uploaders are being damaged by DMCA takedowns on YouTube and elsewhere. Give me a break. The fact is that creators victimized by piracy, forced into the time-consuming process of sending DMCA notices to protect their work, FAR outnumber users victimized by erroneous DMCA takedowns. According to the most recent numbers I could find (via Google’s transparency report) the company “removed 97% of search results specified in requests that we received between July and December 2011.”
I have to give the EFF and its well-paid attorneys credit though. They have successfully made the victims into villains through an ongoing campaign of carefully crafted rhetoric. Never mind the actual truth–that for every “bogus” and “absurd” takedown sent there are thousands that are legit. Sadly it’s a fact that gets lost on most of the public and very likely some of the politicians considering copyright reform that were sitting in that room.
Hey YouTube! What about covering legal costs of creators who receive bogus counter-notices?
Yes Virginia, not every counter-notice in response to a DMCA takedown sent is legitimate. It’s a fact that creators who send a legitimate DMCA notice, to remove full copies of a film from YouTube for example (no debate about fair use here) have received a counter-notice from the uploader.
I wrote about this specific scenario in a blog post “How DMCA Abuse Hurts Creators” in 2013. In this case the uploader had zero right to upload the film, but because she sent a counter-notice, YouTube put the full copy of the film back online.
What now? The only recourse the user has is to go to court. Is YouTube willing to cover those court costs? Will YouTube step up to protect rights holders whose work is ripped off on their site? The answer is a simple, NO.
YouTube’s move is not about doing what’s right, or protecting legal rights. It’s about protecting Google’s bottom line. YouTube depends on fresh content to drive traffic to its site. From a business perspective, it makes total sense to streamline that path from any speed bumps along the way, including those pesky copyright claims.
The DMCA is broken, but not in the way the EFF would have you think. It’s broken because it does a lousy job protecting the work of filmmakers, musicians, photographers, and authors.
Over these past few years I’ve written plenty on the subject so if you’re so inclined, you can a sampling of some of my other posts that explore why the DMCA needs fixing: