YouTube has taken an important step to protect its users against frivolous takedowns, instituting a formal process for appealing blocked videos under the ContentID program. In a Wednesday blog post, the Google-owned video site announced that copyright holders that wish to keep a video offline after the uploader disputes a ContentID claim will (in most cases) be required to file a formal takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That matters because there are legal penalties (albeit relatively modest ones) for filing bogus DMCA takedown requests.
We've covered a number of incidents where copyright holders have gotten YouTube to take down videos that didn't belong to them. In one case, a video related to the Curiosity lander was taken down because it used public-domain footage from NASA that had also been used by commercial news outlets. In another case, videos featuring President Barack Obama singing a few words from Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" were taken offline by the firm that owned the rights to the music, even though the videos appeared to fall squarely within fair use.
Some media outlets have described these as takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but most of them appear to have been taken down using the separate ContentID system. (YouTube has repeatedly refused to tell us, at least on the record, which takedowns were due to ContentID and which were DMCA requests.) Under ContentID, copyright holders upload samples of their copyrighted works and YouTube's software automatically blocks "matching" videos.
Under the old ContentID system, disputes would be sent back to the copyright holder that filed a complaint in the first place. As YouTube now acknowledges, "prior to today, if a content owner rejected that dispute, the user was left with no recourse for certain types of Content ID claims."
But now YouTube has established a new, less Kafkaesque process: if an "eligible" user disputes a ContentID claim, the "content owner" will have only two options. It can release the claim, allowing the video to go back up. Or it can file a formal takedown notice under the DMCA.
That matters because the DMCA has a well-defined process for resolving content disputes. The uploader can file a counter-notice to get his content restored. Then if the copyright holder still feels the video is infringing, he must file an actual lawsuit in federal court.
Who is "eligible" for the new appeals process? "Uploaders in good copyright standing may be able to appeal up to three disputed Content ID matches that were reviewed and rejected at a time." YouTube says that "additional eligibility restrictions may apply, including the date of dispute and other factors."
This is clearly an improvement, but it should be noted that the vanilla DMCA process still leaves a lot to be desired. Under the DMCA, YouTube is supposed to wait 10 days to restore a user's video after receiving a counter-notification. Moreover, YouTube has a "three strikes" system, which means that each time anyone submits a DMCA takedown request, its owner gets a "strike" on his account. YouTube says that "if you receive three copyright strikes, your account and all videos uploaded to that account will be removed."
That approach still seems to give major content companies too much power, since users risk losing their access to YouTube if they dispute too many bogus takedowns. But at least most users now have a way to get their videos out of ContentID purgatory.