Big Entertainment Companies Issuing Wrongful YouTube Claims On Public Domain Works

from the that's-depressing dept

As Congress is debating SOPA, it seems worth taking a look at how copyright holders are already abusing existing copyright law to take down content they have absolutely no right to. Cory Doctorow has a column concerning how the "real pirates" of YouTube may be the big entertainment companies, who have been using YouTube's ContentID system (not the DMCA) to "claim" a ton of public domain works:

FedFlix is a charitable project launched by Carl Malamud, a "rogue archivist" who raises funds to digitise and upload videos created at US government expense. Under US law, government creations are in the public domain and can be freely used by anyone, but the US government is remarkably lax about actually making its treasures available to the public that owns them.

Malamud's group pays the fees associated with retrieving copies from the US government sometimes buying high-priced DVDs that the government issues, other times paying to have unreleased videos retrieved from government archives and posts them to YouTube, the Internet Archive and other video sites, so that anyone and everyone can see, download, and use them.

Malamud's 146-page report from FedFlix to the Archivist of the United States documents claims that companies such as NBC Universal, al-Jazeera, and Discovery Communications have used ContentID to claim title to FedFlix videos on YouTube. Some music royalty collecting societies have claimed infringements in "silent movies".

I've embedded that full report below as well. As Doctorow notes, under the ContentID system, getting too many strikes can get you in trouble, but there apparently is no way to defend yourself by saying "this work is in the public domain." The closest may be that it's fair use, but fair use doesn't apply to the public domain (fair use is an exception to copyright law, but there's no copyright on public domain material).

There are two issues here. One is the general over-claiming of material by others. That's generally known as copyfraud and should be punishable, but rarely is. The second, perhaps bigger, point is how this ContentID system -- the kind of pre-monitoring system that the entertainment industry has been trying to foist on every user-generated-content site for the past few years -- isn't always so benign. It can clearly catch perfectly legitimate things, and that's a problem if we're trying to encourage the free flow of information.

But, of course, nothing gets done to fix any of this because, as Cory notes, "there is no organized lobby for the public domain." And that's sad. Because, realistically speaking, Congress should be the lobby for the public domain, as they're supposed to (I know, don't laugh) represent the interests of the public.

Filed Under: carl malamud, copyfraud, copyright, copyright abuse, public domain, takedowns

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2011 @ 5:47pm


    I think you may be onto something here.

    This would appear at least on the surface to be an issue of the contentID system, and not of false claims. As an example, if Al Jazeera used part of "Work Pays America" in one of their reports, and then claimed copyright on the report, does contentID then tag any video that matches any part of that report as offending?

    For me, this story just smacks of "didn't check it" journalism, proving once again that Techdirt is not much more than an advocacy group against copyright - dare I say lobbyist front?

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