After a long history of strange gaffes in its copyright claim system, YouTube is finally making moves to support its lifeblood – its independent content creators who, too often for comfort, are subjected to copyright claims that actually violate their rights to fair use.
Or, occasionally, the claims can be even more ridiculous – groups claiming public domain content as theirs and such. The worst case of false copyright claims happened earlier this year, when a video creator’s own work was claimed by Sony after he had licensed it to them.
The automated nature of the system can be blamed for this, but at the same time, it’s hard to envision it being done manually at all levels. The sheer volume of content at YouTube would allow for too much abuse in such a system.
But now YouTube has decided to stand up for some of its users, offering as much as $1 million in legal support to those defending themselves. The first four cases to receive such treatment are somewhat odd – they include a UFO debunking video and a satirical video about the former leader of the NAACP. But in each case, YouTube firmly believes that its users are within the ever-elusive bounds of “fair use,” an exception to copyright law that limits the abilities of rights holders to harass people using their work in certain ways.
As the Internet has grown up, YouTube has grown up with it. Ultimately, the company invented ContentID specifically to deal with copyright issues, and some believe it would have eventually been sued into the ground if it had not done so. As Mashable’s Christina Warren wrote in 2012:
YouTube started building Content ID in 2007 after it decided that video and audio fingerprinting technology could help the company in its various legal battles. The problem was that existing systems weren’t good enough for YouTube’s uses.
Speaking on the matter to the Christian Science Monitor, University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann said that Google could do more to educate users about when they’re actually going to end up violating the DMCA.
Google hasn’t announced any changes to its larger practices, but they’re clearly trying to position themselves as more user friendly. You could almost read this as an offering, to a group that has had reasons to feel slighted. […] They’re pointing to features that don’t always make a lot of difference, but ignoring that one that does, which is transformativeness.
Competitor video sites have come into the fold over the years, but there are several advantages that YouTube maintains, including its many millions of users to guarantee views, integration with parent company Google and other search engines, as well as what some consider superior technology.
But in the early days of web video, there were many competing efforts, including companies like Viddler, who had comparable tech for the time and were competing for the same market. If YouTube fails to look after its top content producers, then over time we could see a shift to sites which will, despite tech debt and lack of network effect.
Featured image from Shutterstock.