After Mr. Enter’s review of Norm of the North was unjustly flagged for copyright on YouTube, I decided to discuss the problem of DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) abuse so as to make more people aware of this pressing issue.
Imagine if you made reviews for a living. Chances are that, assuming your reviews are videos, your job would be tied to YouTube, which means that you’ll never feel safe uploading a review despite that what you’re doing is perfectly legal. You’d be forced to live in fear of losing your videos—your livelihood—and even your whole channel to anyone who wants to make a quick profit off your work. Anyone who doesn’t like your reviews, such as the people who made the work you’ve critiqued, can take down your video with the click of a button—no questions asked.
And There is No Defence
What’s worse is that to fight these false claims, which takes several months, you’ll have to send your home address to the false claimant, meaning they could hunt you down and kill you if they were so inclined. Needless to say, the claimant need not tell you where they live. Even after you’ve fought the claim for months and won, you’re still not safe; the claimant can just claim the video again, and the cycle repeats. In this system, you’re pretty much stuffed.
A critic named Alex (aka. I Hate Everything) had his channel taken down after making a review of a notoriously bad movie called Cool Cat Saves the Kids. Derek “Daddy Derek” Savage, the creator of Cool Cat, didn’t like the review and promptly took it down, infringing on Alex’s right to free speech. For months, Savage bullied Alex, trying to intimidate him into yielding to his will. The worst part, according to Alex, was that he was never able to contact an actual human in YouTube’s automated system.
Alex’s plight was the straw that broke the camel’s back, it seems, because shortly afterwards the community launched a campaign called “#Where’s the Fair Use?” (#WTFU) to protect free speech. Unfortunately, anyone who wants to keep stealing critics’ earnings with impunity can simply flag even these videos to silence them.
No One is Safe
Even the biggest online reviewers like Doug Walker and Brad Jones are forced to deal with a false claim every other day. Even with reviews that use no copyrighted material whatsoever, companies file copyright claims to silence the criticism of their movies. When someone files a claim, the victim of the abuse is guilty until proven innocent, and smaller channels in particular are virtually defenceless. Walker has even had to substitute clips in his reviews with reenactments so as not to trigger an automatic takedown, but even these reviews can get flagged by keywords or by someone who just doesn’t like the critic’s opinion.
Fair Use? Why Should the Claimant Care?
Mr. Enter is currently fighting false copyright claims on at least two of his reviews, a state of affairs that has become incredibly common among reviewers on YouTube. Were he fighting any more than that, his channel would be in great danger of being taken down permanently—once again, no questions asked. You can look up the laws concerning Fair Use if you’re curious, but one of the main things about fair use is that it protects parodies and reviews from needing the copyright-holder’s permission. Being reviews, these videos fall under Fair Use, which a judge declared a company must consider before filing a claim.
Despite the illegal nature of these false claims, the lack of consequence for the abuser means that YouTube’s copyright system can easily be used to silence free speech when a reviewer critiques a work. As it happens, however, the copyright holder isn’t even the company filing the claim in this case, because literally anyone can abuse the system to take advantage of any YouTuber.
Not only can anyone claim any video, but there’s a great deal of incentive for the amoral to do so, as the claimant can, until the claim is successfully refuted, take all ad-revenue from the video. Illegal businesses have, in fact, been built around this, such as “AdRev for the Third Party” among others. Even after the claim is refuted, they still get to keep all the money they’ve already stolen, and again, there’s no consequence so there’s nothing to stop them from doing the same thing again. No, I am NOT making this up!
Terrified to Create
Something clearly needs to be dome about this, but despite YouTube’s assertion that they are making changes, things seem only to become steadily worse. Fair Use is never considered by the automated Copyright ID system, and videos are taken down immediately. It takes a disgruntled claimant only a few minutes to file a claim, yet their victim must fight tooth and nail for months simply to defend their right to speak freely!
This is one of the reasons I don’t make video reviews—at least not on YouTube. I’d still focus mostly on written articles, but I do have at least one article planned whose nature lends itself best to a video. Regardless, I am afraid to upload anything to YouTube because I’d rather focus on writing than on fighting a false claim. I’m not alone in this, as many aspiring reviewers are terrified of uploading their work to YouTube for fear that they will be brought to their knees by a company they’ve never heard of and that has no real claim to their (or any) work. Without heed of actual laws, companies can silence criticism of their work without fear of opposition—free speech be damned!