While my colleague Peter Jaszi and I were at the Consumer Electronics Show last week talking about our latest study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video , we pointed out that more was at stake than business models. When online video platforms take down perfectly legal video because a content holder says there’s use of their copyrighted material in it, that’s private censorship. And the issue isn’t just this generation of happy-go-lucky video makers, either. What’s at stake is the evolution of the emerging participatory culture.
What representatives of content holders usually say is, "Our filtering techniques work really well, and nobody’s complaining." In fact, at CES, NBC’s Rick Cotton said, "We’ve been providing our content to YouTube for their filtering system and we haven’t seen any problems." (I wasn’t at his panel; I learned about his remarks from ContentAgenda.com , one-stop shopping for this kind of thing.)
No sooner had I read his remarks than an email arrived from an Irish filmmaker. Here’s what he said (he told me it’s ok to quote his email):
My name is Owen Gallagher, a postgraduate student of Design & Communications from Ireland. I recently completed my Masters Degree for which I wrote a thesis on Remix Culture and developed a video remix web community called Total Recut. (http://www.totalrecut.com)
As part of my Masters project, I created several video recuts (or mash-ups as you call them in the States) in various styles. One was a political vid that recut footage of an Irish politician with a BBC owned TV show, the Dragons Den.
) BBC Worldwide made a copyright infringement claim against the video and YouTube took it down. The same happened with two other video recuts I had created: Shrek Recut
) and Dynamite Drugs PSA
) which were removed as a result of claims by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox respectively. As a result of three strikes, my YouTube account was permanently disabled.
I felt quite strongly that I had been wronged on this occasion, as all three videos are short form (less than 3 minutes each) and only sample brief snippets of the copyrighted material in question to create something of worth in their own right. I felt that they should be protected by 'Fair Use'. I filed Counter Notifications for all three videos to YouTube and then the BBC came back to me asking for evidence that the Dragons Den video was, in fact, created as part of a University project. I sent them back a link to my thesis ( www.totalrecut.com/masters.doc ) and they wrote back saying they had reviewed the case and would ask YouTube to reinstate the video. The 10 days grace period lapsed for both of the other infringement claims and so YouTube put all my videos back up and restored my account.
I don't think enough people are asserting their rights to freedom of expression, in practice. YouTube seems to be removing videos left, right and centre based on (often wrong) copyright infringement claims by big media companies. I would like people to know about my case and hopefully it would encourage more people to do likewise and stand up for artistic expression in the digital age.
Owen Gallagher is not your average online video maker. He’s creative director of an online video site. No wonder he’s worried. His experience demonstrates that private and accidental censorship does happen, and it also suggests that NBC’s Rick Cotton’s cheerful optimism is misplaced. Many people don’t have Owen Gallagher’s savvy, and especially his knowledge that you can challenge a takedown. Tell somebody.