Fueled by the massive resources of Google, YouTube is now considered one of the most important sites on the Internet.
Every month two billion users log into the platform and according to the latest statistics, people watch more than a billion hours of video every day. This wouldn’t be possible without creators uploading their content to YouTube, with many doing so in the hope of gaining exposure and/or a share of the financial spoils.
However, despite increasing numbers of channels earning five and six-figure payouts, the road is not always smooth for smaller contributors. In particular, many feel they are overlooked or mistreated when it comes to copyright claims that target their content and leave their accounts in poor standing.
One such user is LaTonya R. Finley of Oakland, California. Finley ran out of patience with YouTube recently and responded with a lawsuit demanding compensation and an injunction against the company for alleged failures under the DMCA.
Filed in California district court last week, the lawsuit is being allowed to progress in forma pauperis (“in the manner of a pauper”), meaning that since the plaintiff has limited financial means, she is excused from paying filing fees and court costs. After even a cursory view of the case, that is probably a good thing for the plaintiff.
Alleged False Copyright Claim, YouTube Refuses to Process Counter
According to the complaint, around May 4, 2020, Finley received a notification from YouTube indicating that a company called ‘Pixel World Roleplay LTD’ had submitted a copyright complaint against her channel and as a result, it had received a copyright strike from YouTube.
Finley claims that YouTube provided no contact information enabling her to reach the copyright holder and she wasn’t told which content she’d allegedly infringed. Then, when she tried to file a counternotice under the DMCA, YouTube informed her that it hadn’t “been able to process her counter notification given the information she had provided.
Aside from the bare claims, the lawsuit provides no evidence indicating the validity (or otherwise) of the original claim nor any details of Finley’s response. However, the complaint goes on to criticize YouTube for only providing limited means to contest a copyright claim and to be frank, only goes downhill from there.
Plaintiff Alleges That YouTube Has No DMCA Agent
“Defendants have repeatedly violated the DMCA requirements for copyright takedown, by failing to provide the registered agent information, such as: full name, phone number, and email as required by the DMCA. This lawsuit seeks to hold YouTube accountable for the misconduct, negligent [sic] and for the damage YouTube has caused the creator,” it reads.
Finley seems to be working on the assumption that YouTube doesn’t provide this information when in fact it does. The site also has a designated DMCA agent, as reported in the Designated DMCA Agent Directory.
Alleged Lack of DMCA Agent Denied Plaintiff Counternotice Rights
The lawsuit states that a platform like YouTube can lose its “safe harbor’ protections if it doesn’t have a DMCA agent. While that may be true, the complaint seems to present a situation where YouTube’s agent exists to assist with the contesting of copyright claims. Since YouTube does not have an agent for Finley to contact (at least according to the lawsuit), she has been denied her right to file a counternotice, the complaint insists.
The lawsuit presses ahead on this basis, claiming that YouTube punishes creators by not protecting them from abusive copyright holders while withholding information that would allow YouTube users to identify abusive notice senders and take appropriate legal action.
“YouTube as the service provider has an obligation that the plaintiff has the necessary information to file its complaint before the on any false information that has been submitted that has injury to the plaintiff [sic],” it adds.
The lawsuit ends with a series of demands, including compensatory damages in an amount to be decided at trial for YouTube’s alleged breaches of the DMCA, plus costs and attorneys’ fees. It also demands a preliminary injunction preventing YouTube from allowing Pixel World LTD to file any more false notices against Finley and “to continue to allow a strike against plaintiff’s channel..”
The Complaint Probably Isn’t Going Anywhere
Aside from the fact that YouTube does provide contact details for copyright issues and does have a registered DMCA agent, the complaint seems to be based on the assumption that YouTube is legally obliged to process counternotices under the DMCA. An earlier case indicates that no such requirement exists.
Last year, YouTuber DJ Short-E sued YouTube for not processing copyright claims properly, something which resulted in his channel getting shut down and a significant loss of revenue.
The YouTuber demanded $720,000 in compensation for lost income, among other things, and asked the court to prevent YouTube from ever banning him again. He argued that YouTube had failed to live up to its duties by failing to process his DMCA counternotices. Unfortunately, these requests were all denied by the court.
In its defense, YouTube argued that its Terms of Service allows the company to remove any content “without prior notice” and “in its sole discretion.” This includes not restoring content following a copyright claim, even when the claim is challenged.
“[O]nce a user submitted a counter-notice, the agreement reserved to YouTube’s sole discretion the decision to take any further action, including whether to restore the videos or even to send the counternotice to the purported copyright owner,” the judge in the case wrote.
“Thus, YouTube did not agree to act as a neutral processor of notices and counter-notices. YouTube retained control to evaluate counter-notices and infringement on its own,” he added, dismissing the complaint.
Due to the challenges faced by the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic, the case will not proceed until a later date. Nevertheless, it will be heard, hopefully not causing the plaintiff to incur too many costs when it does.
The Finley v. YouTube, LLC complaint can be found here (pdf)