YouTube's Finally Starting To Change Their Disastrous Copyright System

YouTube's Finally Starting To Change Their Disastrous Copyright System

If you publish videos on YouTube, it's a chance to share creations with an enormous audience. But thanks to a legal system stacked in favour of corporations, it's also a treacherous landscape where a copyright takedown notice can result in your channel getting deleted. Now, YouTube is fighting back.

In short, YouTube wants to defend fair use. For a handful of videos, YouTube will refuse to comply with takedown notices and leave the videos on the site. It will even cover legal costs — up to $US1 million — to defend the video in court.

(It's worth noting that the videos will only stay online in the US.)

In a blog post titled "A Step Toward Protecting Fair Use on YouTube," Google copyright legal director Fred von Lohmann explained this long overdue move, which it's calling "Fair Use Protection."

"We're doing this because we recognise that creators can be intimidated by the DMCA's counter notification process, and the potential for litigation that comes with it," said von Lohmann. " [...] While we can't offer legal protection to every video creator — or even every video that has a strong fair use defence — we'll continue to resist legally unsupported DMCA takedowns as part of our normal processes. We believe even the small number of videos we are able to protect will make a positive impact on the entire YouTube ecosystem, ensuring YouTube remains a place where creativity and expression can be rewarded."

Google seems to be hoping for a ripple effect. By defending a handful of videos — in court, if necessary — it might protect millions of others in the process.

This isn't entirely new, however. YouTube has, in the past, pushed back on takedown notices and told companies they have been using them improperly. When George "Super Bunnyhop" Weidman published "Kojima vs. Konami: An Investigation" back in May, Konami issued a takedown notice and the video disappeared. Later, however, YouTube said Konami was clearly in the wrong:

YouTube's Finally Starting To Change Their Disastrous Copyright System

Kotaku has often written about the way takedown notices are aggressively (and confusingly) used by companies. Just recently, I reported how Atlus was slamming channels with copyright violations — and then quietly reversing some of them. It's a bizarre, layered system that makes little sense, even to many YouTube creators, but one that creates an atmosphere of fear and distrust.

I've also reported on the shady takedown notices leveled against critic Jim Sterling, who's mentioned on YouTube's page for Fair Use Protection. A game developer used the legal system's deference to copyright holders to have YouTube remove a video where Sterling was critical of their game. Not only did the video disappear, but so did Sterling's ability to make money on it. Copyright notices aren't just about copyright — they're used to hit people where it hurts.

"is about time somebody stop that stupid guy," said the anonymous developer to me at the time. "I seen all his video he is enjoying making money from, is from steam greenlight. and greenlight videos are from poor indie guys or new companies who have little to defends them self. almost all of greenlight projects are still underdevelopment the developers are still working on it."

Sterling's response was, unsurprisingly, pointed.

"There is a prevailing belief that indie games, by virtue of their size and budget, are above reproach, and I simply believe that's a bullshit and rather cowardly way of trying to duck criticism," he said. "If you're selling a game, you should expect game critics to, y'know, criticise it. You're not special, and you certainly don't get to play the 'I'm a poor bullied weakling' card when you're the one wielding takedown strikes to silence people who said things you don't like."

Yesterday, Sterling published a video celebrating Google's decision.

Sterling is one of four creators chosen by Google for this, and told me this morning that he's "the only representative of games media on the program."

Clearly, he's excited.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Too bad it didn't happen sooner.


    It's about that all important precedent to be set by a ruling in court. If this looks like it's going to go against the copyright holders they'll back off to avoid a ruling and prevent a precedent that could be used against them in future.

      I think there was a ruling a couple of months ago with a baby dancing to a Prince song. It was found to be under fair use and that no company involved in taking it down even considered fair use before demanding it be taken down.

    Too bad the protections we have in Aus are so weak. And probably will be weaker still with the new trade deal :(

      Unfortunately true - Australian law doesn't have an equivalent to "fair use", just certain very tightly defined exceptions. As a result, with Free (sic) Trade Agreements we tend to wind up with all of the bad consequences of copyright changes and none of the good.

      It's faintly damning that no legal changes were required to bring us into agreement with the copyright provisions of the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

      The one good thing is that there have been some legal cases where the judge has clearly indicated they know the deck is stacked, and interpret the law liberally as a result.

        are you sure about that?
        The “fair dealing” exceptions to infringement
        There is no general exception for using copyright material simply because you think it is fair or
        because you are not making a profit. The Copyright Act allows you to use copyright material
        without permission if your use is a “fair dealing” for one of the following purposes:
        - research or study;
        - criticism or review;
        - parody or satire;
        - reporting news; or
        - professional advice by a lawyer, patent attorney or trade marks attorney

        All but 1 is listed in the screenshot from YT.

          I checked back in the actual copyright act and it looks like you're right. Those provisions are relatively new - pretty sure they weren't in there ten years ago - and I'm glad to see them.

          Dammit, they're going to kick me off the Internet now. Is saying that somebody else is right allowed?

    This is all leading up to a Big Video-Game Publisher in court versus The Little Bloke Doing Videos*

    *backed by THE biggest corporation in the online space

    It's going to be a bloodbath

    Maybe there should be Youtube insurance protecting content creators from the consequences of legal action.

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