Will a Lawsuit Change YouTube’s Disastrous Copyright Problem?

/ Sep 30, 2013


With the rise of YouTube, record companies, television networks, and all sorts of content creators have been dealing with what they believe to be an industry-shaking problem, which is that their content is being stolen from them. Naturally, these content creators and owners have been panicking and, in doing so, have developed some very unforgiving auto-scanning detection tools to solve these problems.

It works like this: Record company A scans YouTube and finds one unofficial version of musician B’s hit song. Record company A then files a complaint, YouTube fields it then sends it to the unofficial uploader C, and ultimately the video is pulled.

But the auto-scan bots are heavy-handed. They will flag just about anything, regardless of whether it falls into the “fair use” category. It’s a huge problem on YouTube — a problem Harvard law professor and Creative Commons co-founder Lawrence Lessig is tackling head on.

YouTube does not have the manpower or time to moderate each and every complaint, so they have left this in the hands of the parties involved. According to YouTube’s official statement on copyright infringement: “When we [YouTube] receive a complete takedown notice, we remove the content as the law requires.” It is as simple as that; content providers have the right to flag just about anything that seems suspicious. YouTube won’t argue and when facing the might of, say Sony, unofficial uploader C will probably lose any ensuing legal battles.

Lessig has decided to embark on one such battle after a video he used for a Creative Commons conference in 2010 was flagged earlier this year. The video, which featured people from around the world covering the Phoenix song “Lisztomania,” clearly falls into the “fair use” category simply because it was (1) not being used for commercial purposes and (2) used for educational reasons like “scholarship, or research,” which is legal under section 107 of the Copyright Act.

In June 2013, both Viacom and Liberation Music filed complaints against the video. However, YouTube only sent Lessig the Viacom notice, which the Harvard professor successfully defended. Unfortunately, Lessig never received the Liberation Music notice and was suddenly warned via YouTube that his account would be deleted if he did not remove the lecture video. Appealing his case once again, Lessig was warned by both YouTube and Liberation that if he did not remove his appeal, he would be sued in a US District Court.

Lessig removed the video but ultimately filed a lawsuit against Liberation Music accusing the record company of feigning ignorance when it knew that his video did not violate any copyright laws. Lessig is seeking unspecified damages from the company. However, according to Lessig, the lawsuit is meant to act as a way to force content providers to adopt a less aggressive stance when approaching copyright disputes.

This has been a problem for multiple YouTube uploaders and companies in the past, as auto-scan technology is far from perfect.

Some technology providers are making great strides in this area. Software company ZEFR has made a business out of exactly this type of rights issue arising on YouTube. ZEFR detects copyrighted material and works with uploaders and companies to monetize said content avoiding any legal scuffles.

Generally, ZEFR deals with movie and TV clips, whereas technology providers like Audiosocket are looking to solve YouTube’s music rights issue head-on. Audiosocket recently developed LicenseID, which allows for companies to provide specific licensing information within an uploaded song. It is also meant to protect users who have legally licensed the music for use in their content.

With these technologies in place, ideally both content providers and uploaders will be able to find a happy medium in which copyrighted material is legally represented on both ends. Before this is to happen, however, YouTube must take a much more hands-on approach. The video-sharing site has neglected copyright disputes for far too long, instead leaving it in the hands of quick-on-the-draw corporations and utterly confused uploaders. With YouTube’s support and a hand from technology developers, copyright law online may become just a bit more clear for creators and companies.

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