To protect copyright holders, YouTube uses advanced tools that flag and disable videos which are used without permission.
In addition to this Content-ID system, copyright holders can also submit manual takedown notices to remove infringing content.
Both routes have led to abuse in the past, resulting in takedowns of perfectly legitimate videos. This is particularly worrying for channel owners, as these allegations can potentially lead to multiple copyright strikes after which YouTube removes the entire account.
Over the years we have covered takedown mishaps in great detail. However, this week we learned something new. As it turns out, copyright holders also have the ability to remove content that doesn’t exist yet. A preemptive copyright strike, so to speak.
This unusual takedown strategy was revealed by Matt Binder, a reporter at Mashable who hosts a podcast named DOOMED, which is also live-streamed through YouTube.
Earlier this month, Binder scheduled a show discussing CNN’s Democratic candidates’ debate with progressive activist Jordan Uhl. The show was recorded after the broadcast and in preparation Binder scheduled the podcast’s livestream on YouTube, with “post-Democratic debate” in the title.
Many creators use this scheduling feature to announce their upcoming live streams. What’s new, however, is that Binder’s scheduled stream was removed before it even started. In other words, the content was deemed to be infringing before it existed.
Binder documented the unusual episode on Mashable where he also reveals that the takedown notice was issued on behalf of Warner Bros. Entertainment, which owns CNN.
“The notice informed me that I had received a copyright strike for my scheduled stream,” Binder writes, noting that YouTube immediately restricted his ability to stream content live.
“That one copyright strike was enough to disable livestreaming on my channel for the strike’s three-month duration. If I were to accumulate three strikes, YouTube would just shut down my channel completely, removing all of my content,” Binder adds.
Apparently, Warner Bros. and CNN were monitoring streams that could potentially infringe on their right to broadcast the Democratic candidate’s debate. Based on the title alone, they mistakenly concluded that Binder’s stream was going to be illegal, which it clearly wasn’t.
To correct the mistake Binder protested the takedown notice, hoping that it would be swiftly reversed. However, his first request was denied because it was unclear if he had a valid reason to file a counter-notification.
As a reporter, Binder followed up the story and reached out directly to YouTube, informing the company that he planned to write about the issue. That worked, as the mistake was soon corrected and the copyright strike disappeared as well.
One has to wonder, however, if the average Joe would be able to achieve the same result. In any case, it seems off that copyright holders can claim copyright infringement on content that has yet to be created.
We previously reported that Google search allows rightsholders to remove infringing URLs that are not yet indexed by the search engine. Binder’s case is similar but goes a step further as the allegedly infringing content didn’t exist when the stream was taken down.
YouTube constantly has to balance the interests of its users and those of copyright holders. It’s likely that the option to preemptively strike live streams is used to make it easier to take down scheduled broadcasts of sports games or other time-sensitive major broadcasts.
While this preemptive takedown option may be useful, Binder’s example shows that these powers can also lead to overblocking, which can seriously hurt legitimate content creators.