YouTube Pays Users’ Legal Bills to Defend Fair Use

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Google has strengthened its stance towards wrongful DMCA notices that serve to intimidate YouTube users. Drawing a symbolic line in the sand, Google says it will cover legal costs associated with defending four videos which all use copyrighted content but are protected under 'fair use' legislation, should they be targeted by rightsholders.

youtubefaceAccording to Google more than half a million hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every day. Although with ContentID the company tries, determining the copyright status of every single minute is an almost impossible task.

While identifying copyrighted movies, TV shows and music are all within the company’s abilities, when used in certain ways all of those things can be legally shown on YouTube, even without copyright holders’ permission.

Under U.S. law the concept is known as ‘fair use’ and it enables copyrighted material to be used for purposes including criticism, news reporting, teaching and research. However, some copyright holders like to contest the use of their content on YouTube no matter what the context, issuing DMCA takedown notices and landing YouTube users with a ‘strike’ against their account.

YouTube has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to protect its users against wrongful claims but now the company appears to be drawing a line in the sand, albeit a limited one, in defense of those legally using copyrighted content in transformative ways.

In a blog post Google’s Copyright Legal Director says that YouTube will showcase several user-created videos in its Copyright Center and cover all legal costs should rightsholders challenge how each uses copyrighted content.

“YouTube will now protect some of the best examples of fair use on YouTube by agreeing to defend them in court if necessary,” Fred von Lohmann said.

“We’re doing this because we recognize that creators can be intimidated by the DMCA’s counter notification process, and the potential for litigation that comes with it.”

The first four titles showcased can be found here and each presents a classic demonstration of fair use. For example, the first uses game clips for the purposes of review, while the second offers a critique of third-party UFO videos.

Google hopes that by standing behind videos such as these, YouTubers and those seeking to take down content will become educated on what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to using other people’s copyrighted content.

“In addition to protecting the individual creator, this program could, over time, create a ‘demo reel’ that will help the YouTube community and copyright owners alike better understand what fair use looks like online and develop best practices as a community,” Google’s Copyright Legal Director adds.

Perhaps needless to say, Google isn’t in a position to offer legal support to everyone uploading content to YouTube but it has pledged to “resist legally unsupported DMCA takedowns” as part of its normal processes.

“We believe even the small number of videos we are able to protect will make a positive impact on the entire YouTube ecosystem, ensuring YouTube remains a place where creativity and expression can be rewarded,” Fred von Lohmann concludes.

Of course, it’s unlikely that any video showcased by Google will experience any legal problems so the defense offer from the company is largely symbolic. However, the overall gesture indicates that the company is paying attention to the fair use debate and is prepared to help its users stand up for their rights. That will be gratefully received.


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