YouTube is pretty much just part of the Internet landscape at this point. It’s one of the great information repositories on the Internet, even if most of it is crap. But lately, it’s been acting less like a website and more like an incompetent cop.
At root is the DMCA takedown, which is becoming increasingly problematic. For those unfamiliar, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has a “safe-harbor” rule. Any website that a copyright holder finds infringing content on won’t be part of any lawsuit that takes it down. Here’s Wikipedia’s attempt to simplify how the process works; notice that it’s still a dozen steps.
The main problem is that DMCA takedowns can be abused. This has been a problem for years, and there have even been hints that YouTube has some agreements with copyright holders that essentially let them take down any video they want, regardless of ownership of content. And lately YouTube has been cracking down excessively, for reasons that are not entirely clear.
For example, the Angry Video Game Nerd, James Rolfe, recently had his entire channel shut down for… well, YouTube doesn’t require itself to provide a reason, and the AVGN people aren’t talking. His channel was swiftly restored after a few hours.
Similarly, the “Buffy Vs. Edward” video that caught on and went viral a few years ago was only restored after the editor agreed to give Lionsgate a share of his video revenue. This despite the fact that legally, Lionsgate’s takedown notice should not have been honored by YouTube: According to the federal government, it’s an ideal example of a perfectly legal reuse of other people’s video clips.
This isn’t just an annoyance: While YouTube doesn’t divulge income, it’s generally estimated to be between $1.5 and $4 for every thousand views. For major YouTubers like Rolfe, with nearly 500 million views, having a channel erased from existence can be devastating to their income.
This is far from the only time YouTube has struggled with copyright issues, and to be fair, the company recently included a real and genuine appeals process. But as the above problems show, it’s still flawed.