YouTube – The Current Legal Minefield and How it Affects the Community

A day or so ago I received a copyright claim on a YouTube Video on my personal channel (MusyVideos) for the music playing in the background of the film. This merely involved acknowledging the claim, which allowed YouTube to add an iTunes link for the song. However it did get me thinking about the many legal difficulties which have affected YouTube and it’s community recently, even leaving aside major attempts to change how web content copyright laws such as SOPA, PIPA and ACTA.

Copyrighted material on YouTube falls under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), which means that YouTube is not liable for the material uploaded to the site. However individual users can be liable, though the lists of cases brought against users shows that copyright claims can be an extremely murky area. My research into what constitutes ‘fair use’ on YouTube suggests a great deal of confusion over the term.

YouTube legalities become even more complicated when the YouTube networks, which I previously blogged about here, get involved. They have certain rights over the channels of their users, and there have been a number of cases over the past year where these networks are considered to have abused their authority over their client channels.

In March, a YouTube user known as MeganSpeaks (also MeganLeeHeart), lost her contract with YouTube Network Machinima for her gaming channel, which came after she filed false copyright claims against another YouTube channels for posting a video criticising her. Pictures of the copyright claim correspondence for one can be found here – sadly the original video remains down and some posts made about it were removed from the site. Machinima also apparently filed a DMCA claim on her behalf on another negative video response since it used the same thumbnail image. However as the thumbnail image was copyrighted to MeganSpeaks and not to Machinima, they were forced to drop the claim. Of course, information about these claims spread quickly across various social media sites, and Machinima possibly terminated her contract to prevent more bad publicity.

Machinima received more negative publicity in July over this video.

It prompted much discussion over whether giving control, even partial control, of your account to a network is really beneficial, and since Google has approximately $35 million invested in Machinima they could lose revenue if Machinima began to lose credibility and members. Being a member of the gaming community, BrainDeadly received a great deal of community support and coverage on news sites. Machinima as a network is gaming based, so any community backlash has a large impact. Of course, with so many channels under their company umbrella the impact was not lasting, although it did results in one of their flagship channels, AtheneWins, breaking contract with them.

One recent and indeed ongoing scandal shows how much one channel, with enough fans, has the potential to seriously damage a commercial organisation, in this case YouTube Network Maker Studios. Maker studios had achieved a good reputation among the YouTube community, with many forum discussions between users aiming to become professionals suggesting that they are a fair company (for example here and here.) They also attracted some of the largest channels on Youtube, including comedian Ray William Johnson who recently split from the network, citing unfair contracts, and apparently managing to draw Maker Studios founder Danny Zappin into a public feud. Johnson has an average of 3 million views on most of his videos, which likely means that he has a lot of dedicated fans willing to trust his word above Zappin’s.

The worst part of these events is that they can be very dividing to the tenuous communities built up in online spaces, especially around YouTube channels. At it’s heart, YouTube depends on these communities to survive and make revenue, as dedicated fan bases are what drive the larger and more productive channels (this is a great article on ‘Microcelebrity’ and how YouTubers rely on close fans to support them.) Therefore YouTube does need to make legal issues as clear as possible, given the restraints of laws such as the DMCA, which were made before YouTube existed, as certainly before it began to generate large amounts of money and create a whole new (currently slightly unregulated) industry of content producers, agents and networks. The above cases all show that there is confusion over the legal aspects of online video, and issues in each case were further clouded by online users who passed on the news with their own views, sometimes without a full grasp of the situation – understandably, since as I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t completely understand it myself!

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One thought on “YouTube – The Current Legal Minefield and How it Affects the Community

  1. Pingback: Sharing Knowledge Online – Who owns it? | Digital Culture, Audio Attempts

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