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 favor 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’ll even cover legal costs—up to $1 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 recognize 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 defense—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’ve 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:
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, criticize 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.”
A little earlier today, 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’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Too bad it didn’t happen sooner.
You can reach the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.