Internet video's robotic, idiotic copyright cops

On Wired, Geeta Dayal looks at the state of automated copyright enforcement video-bots, the mindless systems that shut down the Hugo awards livestream, took down NASA's own footage of the Curiosity landing, and interrupted the video from the DNC. Dayal examines the legal status and necessity for these bots (dubious); their ability to model copyright's full suite, including fair use (nonexistent); and the business reasons for deploying them (cowardly). She also looks at what's at stake when our ability to communicate with one another is suborned to the profit-maximization strategies of giant copyright holders.

“The companies that are selling these automated takedown systems are really going above and beyond the requirements set for them in the DMCA, and as a result are favoring the interests of a handful of legacy media operators over the free-speech interest of the public,” says Parker Higgins, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The notice-and-takedown regime created by the DMCA allows copyright holders to send a written notice to an online hosting service when they find their copyright being violated. The online service can then escape legal liability by taking down the content fairly promptly, and the original poster has the opportunity to dispute the notice and have the content reinstated after two weeks.

But that regime breaks down for livestreaming. For one, if a valid copyright dispute notice is filed by a human, it’s unlikely that a livestream site would take it down before the event ends, nor, under the law, is it actually required to. On the flipside, if a stream is taken down, the user who posted it has no immediate recourse, and the viewership disappears.

The Algorithmic Copyright Cops: Streaming Video’s Robotic Overlords


  1. I don’t see why major organizations don’t just quit Youtube and use a service that allows them more control, like Megaupload.

    1. Because the views are in Youtube. There are services out there that give you more control etc. Vimeo comes to mind. But the problem is, when it comes to online video, you will never get as much views as you will on Youtube, it’s as simple as that.

        1. mindshare, basically. It would not surprise me of people Youtube something in the same way that they Xerox or Hoover (brands that have become synonymous with the primary use of the products).

  2. Haven’t you seen the TED video about googles content filter idiot? It’s brilliant it is right? RIIIGHT? It’s a TED video, how can it not be brilliant. Don’t listen to the facts, it’s not idiotic, it’s brilliant, it’s a TED video for gorrams sake. 

  3. Aren’t take-down notices required to be made “in good faith”? A computer program cannot have good (or ill) faith and cannot, therefore, be a valid source of such a notice unless a human and accountable person subsequently files the actual notice?

    Wouldn’t YouTube, UStream, et al therefore be on firm ground in refusing to honor these automated notices as improper?

    So it seems to me, but I’m not a lawyer and can still think sanely.

    1. Imagine when these take down notices are ported to Predator drones.  They look like at Terrorist, they act like a terrorist, so shoot them all and let Allah sort them out.  Hmm, wait, I think that is what we already do. But the “human” is in the loop and that’s what the difference is.

      With the Hugo awards there was no way for a human to be inserted in the loop fast enough to bring the feed back.

      Which brings me to another thought with the DMCA. There was supposed to be a way to petition the person who did the take down to get it back and if they did it in “bad faith’ they could sue for damages.

      So for example, my web site, Spocko’s Brain, was taken down by ABC/Disney with a copyright claim. They sent a letter to the ISP (1&1) and said that I had infringing material on it. The ISP took it down when the got the threatening letter. BUT Disney/ABC didn’t actually use a DCMA notice therefore I had no recourse for them taking me down, which the DCMA would have given me. Sure I could sue for damages, but without the DCMA they were just saber rattling and it was the ISP who buckled when they didn’t have to.

      The EFF defended my right to use the audio clips as fair use and ABC/Disney didn’t sue me, but they never apologized and 1&1 never put me back up. On the bright side I used the story to bring attention to the violent rhetoric of the right wing radio hosts that I was focusing on and we let more advertisers know of their horrific comments.
      Eventually At KSFO 32 major advertisers left, millions in revenue was lost, two hosts were fired because the station lost so much revenue and the EFF and I educated people on fair use and copyright. All and all a very successful outcome.

      I then taught the same techniques to people at Color of Change who used it to convince advertisers to leave the Glenn Beck show and to Media Matters who used it to help convince advertisers to leave Rush Limbaugh’s show.  So, UStream thinks they made a small mistake with their bots on a little awards show like the Hugos, they really made a huge mistake because people like Cory (and me) are going to use this event to make a much bigger issue of this.

  4. I use to upload personal renderings of classical tunes to youtube (of course without any profit from that, would be so ridiculous given my skills) and often get some auto copyright notice. A few steps filling a form on why I’m not tresspassing anyting, get rid of the notices. Also automatically. It’s stupid and definitely a nuisance, but i think that way everyone is happy and unconcerned. youtube and the copyright holder and me.

    1. But the point is, the copyright holder has no legal right to *be* happy.  Youtube just does it to prevent lawsuits.

      1. why? If I were a copyright holder and some random dude make profit from my efforts without sacrificing anything, I have all the rights to be unhappy, at least.

  5. A year or two ago, during the month when Warner Music Group was bought out by a rich Russian oil tycoon, they put a claim on the Wolf Parade music on my best Youtube science video.
     They then took the Adsense income from the video, (about $100 a month and was my most of my income at the time). It took months of emails and research to find out that WMG had no rights or connection to the music whatsoever. Multiply the above ‘mistake” by a million folks like me, and you have a great gig that pulls in $100 million a month for something you don’t even own!Oh, to take WMG to court to recover lost income must be done in California…against their league of lawyers. 

  6. Surely an Anonymous botnet of takedown-bots can’t be far off. Why bother with DDoS attacks when you can have the ISP switch off your opponents’ websites?

    1. Sign up as a content creator, then hand the keys over to the angry nerds and let a massive bot trolling commence?  I like the cut of your jib.  What’s to stop a bot claiming copyright on absolutely everything not yet claimed?

  7. Most enormo-media companies on YouTube don’t really understand what their relationship to the platform is or should be in regards to copyright infringement on it. At the moment they basically get that it’s a service that allows for content uploads from themselves or users with the same relative ease, and it’s a fairly terrifying concept. Think about it, these companies have for years more or less locked down distribution on their property, whenever possible they’ve avoided dealing with issues of fair use, and now they’re forced by what even the big five media giants see as this inescapable trend towards dealing with this very open, user-generated content heavy, 3rd party platform. For all the VEVO’s or Crackle’s that have sprung up to give this companies a shiny and business friendly hub for their content, they still get that the most frequent way their content is going to be spread around YouTube is out of their hands. They’re terrified because it means they have to deal with issues that they’ve been putting off resolving and trying to fight legally for years. I’m not saying pity Disney or WMG or Sony, “they only have so many billions and now they have this on their plate,” I’m saying that it’s an unsolvable dilemma from the point of view they’ve used to run their companies for in some cases a half-century. Considering the fight these corporations have put up against the “scourge” of online piracy in the last couple of years (imagined, real, and often both), to have their content reappropriated on a massive scale the way YouTube promises users will is frightening and feels to them like a loss.

    But here’s the other thing, this is all temporary. You remember how for the first half a year or so Twitter got big companies would get the idea of a corporate Twitter account and then put some mid-40’s PR exec and an intern in charge of running it? Remember the constant embarrassing gaffes? It still happens, sure, but companies quickly wised up to the fact that having the membrane of faceless corporate unaccountability stretched so thin and so publicly between themselves and their followers on social media was a double edged sword, but one that they had to deal with because the rest of the world expected it. This is the same thing. It’s only in the last two years that most companies have started “getting” YouTube, putting up VOD, having well-maintained dedicated channels, having a voice on the platform, and I can assure you it’s the same on the back-end in regards to piracy. WB and Universal used to, as a rule, set automated takedowns with minimum of match through YouTube’s video-match algorithm, and they don’t anymore. They still monetize everything they can find, don’t get me wrong, but that makes the fight about what amount of remix and re-appropriation makes something entirely new, which is the conversation we all want to be having, rather than a knee-jerk reaction by these guys. The automated content filters are not ideal, but they are getting smarter, and there are companies that are now copyright policing on YouTube in place of those filters, which at least means there would be humans behind it making judgement calls.

    Don’t get me wrong guys, this sucks, and the article and comments are pretty much right in my mind on all points, but the game is shifting in the YouTube backend, media companies are (slowly) figuring out the line between defense of things they own and actions that get them digitally tarred and feathered, so lets hope embarrassments like this actually help to precipitate more and faster change

  8. I wonder if you could sue companies behind robots that block legitimate transmissions for denying free speech? Free speech still IS a privilege guaranteed by the Constitution, isn’t it?

    1. The Constitution doesn’t guarantee free speech; it guarantees (albeit not always well or sanely) speech free from government interference. A private person or institution can tell you to shut your piehole without violating any constitutional precepts.

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