Blackmailers use false copyright claims to shut down victims' Youtube accounts, offer to lift them in exchange for Bitcoin

Youtube's ContentID system allows rightsholders to upload video and audio and block videos that contain their works (or put ads on those videos and take the revenue they generate), and to have the accounts of repeat copyright offenders permanently deleted, along with all their videos.

ContentID is badly flawed. On the one hand, it routinely catches things that aren't copyright infringements (like birdsong, white noise, or home-recorded performances of classical music).

On the other hand, the system has few checks and balances. While Youtube requires that people who want to make ContentID claims go through a vetting process, the process is very lightweight and allows all kinds of bad actors in, who can then steal creators' revenues by falsely claiming copyright over their videos.

No one expects Youtube to be perfect, but it also fails with a remarkable lack of grace. The small number of humans available to review contested claims means that people who fall afoul of machine error, sloppiness and criminal mischief are often unable to get a fair hearing or justice. This phenomenon is familiar to anyone who's had a complaint against one of the big platforms: unless your story makes the news, you're likely to get stuck in an email loop where your complaint keeps getting sent back with irrelevant, semi-automated responses that make it seem like no one has even paid enough attention to understand what's going on.

That lack of human oversight creates the perfect conditions for all kinds of fraud and malice, and criminals have noticed.

A Youtuber called ObbyRaidz, who makes videos about Minecraft, has found himself having received two copyright "strikes" on Youtube from a blackmailer calling themselves VengefulFlame, who has demanded "$150 PayPal or $75 btc (Bitcoin)" or equivalent "goods/services" to have the strikes removed. If ObbyRaidz doesn't comply, VengefulFlame could send one more complaint to Youtube and have ObbyRaidz's account — and all the videos he's created — permanently deleted.

ObbyRaidz says he's been unable to get any help from Youtube, despite repeated complaints and entreaties.

The extortion attempt is a timely reminder of what's at stake in the fight over the EU's Copyright Directive, which mandates a much broader version of ContentID, but for every service and every type of copyrighted work, from tweets to Minecraft skins. Under the proposal, anyone could add anything to the databases of blocked content, and get anyone else's work censored; while this could be used simply to suppress information that a fraudster doesn't like (say, reports of political corruption or complaints about a scammy business), they could also be used as fuel for extortion.

Like many YouTubers, ObbyRaidz says he's worked "really hard" on his channel but with no help from YouTube, he's scared he's going to lose his entire channel due to these bogus complaints.

"It's not fun and i'm gonna be really sad to see if my channel gets terminated. Then I have to go through the process of getting in contact with YouTube and stuff. YouTube is very broken and I want to see if they can fix their system so this doesn't happen to other content creators," he says.

YouTube Strikes Now Being Used as Scammers' Extortion Tool [Andy/Torrentfreak]

Valerie Lawson