Copyright in an Archive

(from September 22nd)
Week 4: Copyright in an Archive

Every individual who reliably uses the internet has something intriguing happen to them at one point or another. When someone loses hours of time, jumping from one video to another on YouTube, they can attest to the allure of the wide variety of content that exists in this massive video database. In all of those video tangents, however, it is likely that we all have encountered a video that has been removed or regionally blocked at some point. With the sense of vast archival footage that YouTube possesses, it was rather disappointing to see how little this week’s articles discussed the copyright claims that occur and the controversy that surrounds it. From false reporting to the bizarre interpretations of what “fair use” is, YouTube frequently suffers from negative public opinion, in order to protect itself against any possible legal action.

It is understandable why YouTube has the preventative measures that they do have in place. Especially since they are now owned by Google, YouTube does not wish to have any legal charges filed against it for hosting copyright-infringing content. However, if it is true that “ten hours of video material are uploaded to YouTube every minute” (Snickars 303), then there should be some employees that are responsible for personally viewing all of the claims that they receive and judging them. It appears that more often than not, when YouTube receives a copyright claim from a company, they lock down the video immediately without review, so they do not incur any future wrath from the same company. This is troubling because, as an ardent viewer and publisher myself, I come across too many instances where good, honest work is punished, while videos that are clearly in copyright violation are allowed to roam free. Even in the work that I do in my spare time, twenty-eight episodes of a video series that I produce currently run on YouTube without any problems. Unfortunately, one episode out of all those is shut down from a supposed copyright claim, even though it is fundamentally no different than the other twenty-eight. One cannot help but wonder how the claim process can be improved.

It is a smart idea to make use of such a large viewing audience, in that anyone can flag and report potentially offending videos. Yet, as Kessler and Schaefer point out, “While making such an option available to users may originally have been inspired by the idea that this might help the efficient and rapid removal of pornographic, racist or otherwise extremist content from the site, it can also lead to various forms of censorship when people declare that they feel ‘offended’ by a clip, for whatever reason” (284). These kinds of “whatever reasons” cause problems and exploit YouTube’s lack of claim review because while it helps for viewers to point out potentially offensive videos, honesty and several other variables can also be called into question. Videos of the “abridging” phenomenon often suffer as a result of this, even though their work consists of taking animation footage, re-editing the video, and providing their own original audio to create a new narrative arc for the work. Even when a friend of mine created his own animations in a video game engine based on the popular cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, he found his video locked and his account banned based on a copyright claim from “Habsro.” Only after a long and tedious complaint process to YouTube, the video and account were both reinstated, because the company Hasbro owns those rights, instead of a user who thought they were clever by switching two letters. All of this happens while television episodes are uploaded and run unedited and unharmed. Yet, these instances only involve video copyright, while the audio side of things is a whole other beast. If copyright rules were clearer and YouTube actually reviewed the claims they received before making a judgment, instead of making a legally-protected snap decision, the vast video archive would be a much cleaner place.

Frank Kessler and Mirko Tobias Schaefer. “Navigating YouTube: Constituting a Hybrid Information System.” In Pelle Snickers and Patrick Vonderau, eds. The YouTube Reader. National Library of Sweden, 2009
Pelle Snickers. “The Archival Cloud.” In Pelle Snickers and Patrick Vonderau, eds. The YouTube Reader. National Library of Sweden, 2009