To protect copyright holders, YouTube uses an advanced piracy recognition system that flags and disables videos which are used without permission.
This system, known as Content ID, works well most of the time, but it is far from perfect.
It’s not well equipped to determine whether content deployment is protected under ‘fair use’, and in some cases it even views white noise or birds chirping as piracy.
Over the past several days, an even more worrying trend has appeared. Several popular YouTube accounts including those belonging to ‘MIT OpenCourseWare‘ and the ‘Blender Foundation,’ have suddenly had all their videos blocked.
People who try to watch one of the freely available MIT courses on YouTube get the following message, which typically appears as an anti-piracy notice if an uploader doesn’t have the rights to show content locally.
“This video contains content from MIT. It is not available in your country.”
The message appears in all locations that we were able to check, suggesting that it may very well apply worldwide. In any case, on social media there’s no shortage of people mentioning that they can no longer access the courses.
The issue hasn’t gone unnoticed by MIT’s OpenCourseWare team which is investigating the matter, without pointing fingers.
“You may have noticed that we are having some trouble with our videos! Please stand by. The elves are working around the clock to fix the issue,” they write, referring people to non-video content in the meantime.
Interestingly, the MIT case doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. Another organization that was hit by the same mysterious blocking efforts is the Blender Foundation.
The nonprofit organization, which is leading the development of the open source 3D content-creation application Blender, has also had its videos blocked.
Ton Roosendaal, Chairman of the Blender Foundation, noticed the issue on Saturday and contacted YouTube. “This is most probably an error from their side,” Roosendaal said.
At the time of writing, the issue still hasn’t been resolved.
Both organizations have verified YouTube accounts and many subscribers, which makes them high profile targets. However, two days have passed and it’s still unclear what’s going on.
The blocking message is part of YouTube’s piracy filter system, but why it was triggered is unknown. As the original publishers, both certainly have the right to publish the videos in question.
Looking even further, we were able to spot dozens of accounts which show similar “blocking” messages. They include verified ones, such as India’s Press Information Bureau, soccer club Sparta Praha, and England Rugby.
TorrentFreak reached out to YouTube to ask why the videos of these accounts have been blocked but at the time of publication, we had yet to hear back. Something appears to be awfully wrong though.
The timing of the incident is interesting, to say the least. This week there’s an important vote scheduled in the European Parliament, which will determine the course of EU copyright law.
One of the most contested changes is the so-called “upload filter,” which is detailed in Article 13 of the copyright reform proposal. According to opponents, such YouTube-like piracy filters are a threat to free speech.
These apparent “mistakes” show that there is a point to that.
Ironically, even French politicians, who were expected to vote in favor of the upload filters, may now reconsider their stance after YouTube temporarily disabled their account following three copyright strikes.
Update: YouTube notes that the issue is related to its updated partner agreements. The company is working on a solution. We updated the title to reflect this and avoid confusion.
“Videos on a limited number of sites have been blocked as we updated our partner agreements. We are working with MITOpenCourseWare and Blender Foundation to get their videos back online,” a YouTube spokesperson tells TorrentFreak.
Update 2: Blender’s Ton Roosendaal notes that YouTube wants the organization to sign a monetization agreement.
“Google sent a contract to Blender Foundation in which we have to accept monetizing our Youtube channel content. Time for a more lengthy article… meanwhile, here’s the contract.”
Update June 22: While some channels are restored, others still appear to face the same issue after 5 days. This includes HUMAN BEATBOX who were told by YouTube that engineers are trying to solve the “technical issue.”
“We’re so troubled by the recent glitches. HUMAN BEATBOX has been on YouTube since 2007 and represents one of the few larger channels for beatboxers, an artist community that thrives on the platform. Whether it’s us or a big channel like MIT, the ones who are truly hurt by AI-driven discrimination like this are the communities — YouTube’s real bread and butter,” says Nate Harris, co-owner of HUMAN BEATBOX.