YouTube’s copyright school

In an apparent bid to prevent one-time copyright infringers from becoming two-timers (or more), YouTube has created a 4 minute and 39 second copyright school on its website, as explained on the official YouTube blog:

Because copyright law can be complicated, education is critical to ensure that our users understand the rules and continue to play by them. That’s why today we’re releasing a new tutorial on copyright and a redesigned copyright help center. We’re also making two changes to our copyright process to be sure that our users understand the rules, and that users who abide by those rules can remain active on the site.

If we receive a copyright notification for one of your videos, you’ll now be required to attend “YouTube Copyright School,” which involves watching a copyright tutorial and passing a quiz to show that you’ve paid attention and understood the content before uploading more content to YouTube.

Ray Dowd over at the Copyright Litigation Blog is not a fan, noting that Google:

  • fails to mention the existence of the public domain;
  • states that “[i]f you are uncertain as to whether a specific use qualifies as a fair use, you should consult a qualified copyright attorney”; and
  • fails to mention the Constitutional purpose of copyright law.

I have to agree with Ray.  The video’s section on fair use (direct link) is particularly egregious.  Unlike the rest of the video, this section adopts the sped-up vocal “style” often adopted at the end of radio commercials to breeze through legal disclaimers (e.g., “Sweepstakes only open to U.S. residents 18 or older…”)  How is this even attempting to educate and inform?

Far from providing a balanced view of copyright law, YouTube’s clear, bottom-line message is this:  Don’t remix or even approach the fair use line.  This is certainly one vision of copyright law, but there are others.  I am reminded of Christina Mulligan’s excellent blog post last June that looked at contemporary copyright law through the lens of Fox’s hit show Glee:

The absence of any mention of copyright law in Glee illustrates a painful tension in American culture. While copyright holders assert that copyright violators are “stealing” their “property,” people everywhere are remixing and recreating artistic works for the very same reasons the Glee kids do — to learn about themselves, to become better musicians, to build relationships with friends, and to pay homage to the artists who came before them. Glee’s protagonists — and the writers who created them — see so little wrong with this behavior that the word ‘copyright’ is never even uttered.

Lawrence Lessig makes the related point that such recreations benefit society, pointing to John Phillip Sousa’s early-twentieth-century fear that recorded music would eventually displace amateur performance entirely.

Google is taking a lot of heat from copyright owners these days, and it’s hard to blame them from trying to stave off any accusations of infringement that might eventually stick to Google itself.  Nevertheless, I don’t think their frenetic, one-sided “educational” video is the best solution.

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