Islamic Extremists Use YouTube's Automated Copyright Dispute Process To Access Critics' Personal Data

from the the-further-breaking-of-a-very-broken-system dept

YouTube's infringement reporting system is -- like many others around the web -- fundamentally broken. Making bogus copyright claims is still an easy way to get channels shut down or to siphon ad revenue from existing videos. It can also be used as a censor -- a cheap and dirty way to shut up critics or remove compromising video.

Apparently, Islamic extremists linked with Al-Qaeda have found another use for YouTube's mostly automated dispute process: low-effort doxxing. According to German news sites, a YouTube channel (Al Hayat TV) known for its criticism of Islam has had to send its listed contact person into hiding after bogus copyright claims filed by extremists led to the exposure of his personal information.

On September 25th, someone using the name "First Crist, Copyright" filed bogus copyright complaints against Al Hayat TV. In order to prevent the channel from being shut down for multiple "strikes," Al Hayat TV was forced to file a counter notification. But in order to do so, the channel operators had to expose sensitive information.

From the YouTube Help section on counter notifications:

After we receive your counter notification, we will forward it to the party who submitted the original claim of copyright infringement. Please note that when we forward the notice, it will include your personal information. By submitting a counter notification, you consent to having your information revealed in this way.
Some of the people behind the channel contacted YouTube and tried to explain the danger of releasing this personal information, especially considering a majority of its contributors operated anonymously for safety reasons. These pleas went unheeded, thanks to the automation of the copyright dispute process. Each request was greeted with pre-generated responses from YouTube support. Discussions with actual humans at YouTube only confirmed that the channel wouldn't be reinstated without following the counter notice procedure -- including handing over details on the channel's contact person.

Unfortunately unaware of the fact that it could have used a legal representative to handle this, Al Hayat TV filed formal counter notices using one of its member's names. Shortly thereafter, it received threats from the supposed copyright holder warning the contact person to "watch your head" (a phrase basically understood to be a death threat in Arabic) and promising to spread this info across several extremist websites. The message also told the contact person to [paraphrased slightly] enjoy living in fear under police protection. The contact person has since gone into hiding.

The quid pro quo of the copyright dispute process netted Al Hayat TV death threats and a completely bogus "First Crist, Copyright" contact person: Samuel George of 245 George Street in Sydney, Australia. Google Street View shows this address to be right in the middle of some prime downtown shopping.

At this point, it would be beyond tedious to rehash the problems with these automated enforcement systems. But this story shows the system can be easily exploited to satisfy very twisted ends. YouTube's copyright dispute process is automated out of necessity. The fact that it instantly "sides" with the accuser contributes to the problem. Trying to sort out the legitimacy of copyright claims without chewing up thousands of man-hours would be a logistical nightmare and would quite possibly result in a system inferior to the irreversibly-broken one in place today. The unfortunate lesson to be drawn from this debacle is that those on the "inside" need to game the system as effectively as those on the "outside." If YouTube's going to treat copyright claims issued by "Crist" from the middle of the Establishment Bar in Sydney, Australia as wholly legitimate, Al Hayat TV should be shown the same disinterested "courtesy" and be allowed to issue a counter notices signed by an imaginary attorney residing at some random address. After all, if the dispute continues past this point, YouTube simply washes its hands of the entire situation and tells both parties to work it out themselves.

Copyright isn't really the culprit here. It's the systems that have been developed in response to rights holders' complaints. They're too easily gamed and little to nothing in the way of deterrents. Unfortunately, unlike incidents where copyright enforcement has been clumsily deployed as a censor, there's no Streisand Effect equivalent for those who greet speech they don't like with threats and violence. Extremists like this simply don't care what others think of their irrational hatred and colossally stupid worldview.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:26am

    "According to German news sites, a YouTube channel (Al Hayat TV) known for its criticism of Islam has had to send its listed contact person into hiding after bogus copyright claims filed by extremists led to the exposure of his personal information."

    Perhaps this will lead to the changes with regards to DMCA notices with the actual sender being held to account for filing a false DMCA notice but somehow no action will be taken to do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:32am

      Re:

      It would not help in this case, as they are now untraceable. This is the problem of providing a platform that does not validate posters, or the copyright status of what is published. Trying to carry out validation would make YouTube into just another gatekeeper deciding what is worth publishing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jon Renaut (profile), 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:27am

    Copyright infringement and terrorism

    They keep telling us that copyright infringement helps terrorists and now look - sure enough, the laws we made them pass to stop infringement are finally doing it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:34am

    Use lawyers

    This is one of the most useful things that a lawyer can do for you: to act as your proxy in public filings and registrations. That way, the contact information that gets exposed is that of your attorney's office, not you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:39am

      Re: Use lawyers

      That way, the contact information that gets exposed is that of your attorney's office, not you.

      Who would also be on the receiving end of death threats by the nutjobs/losers, which might limit the number of people willing to take the case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:42am

      Re: Use lawyers

      That assumes that you can afford the retainer for such a lawyer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:00am

        Re: Re: Use lawyers

        Unless you are a special case (such as, say, an Islamic extremist), having an attorney do this for you can be surprisingly inexpensive. You don't even have to hire a good attorney for it, since it doesn't involve actual legal expertise.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 3:43pm

          Re: Re: Re: Use lawyers

          "Unless you are a special case (such as, say, an Islamic extremist), having an attorney do this for you can be surprisingly inexpensive."

          Oh, in that case, they'd probably just do it for free, huh?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Eldakka (profile), 9 Nov 2014 @ 4:58pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Use lawyers

            Not free, but you can often get lawyers to send a letter on your behalf for relatively small one-off fees. Depending on the scope of work required to write such a letter, it could cost as little as $50.

            Law offices often have form letters already drafted for common matters where they just have insert a few lines of relevant text and it's done.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Maximilist Parody, 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:37am

    Google Google Google IP Theft Stealing

    This wouldn't have happened if Google had only heeded intellectual property protectors' requests and removed all intellectual property theft from the internet.
    Now Google has blood on their hands and the only way to rectify this is with stricter copyright laws and penalties, starting with forcing Google to comply.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Name, 7 Nov 2014 @ 7:23pm

      Re: Google Google Google IP Theft Stealing

      So now Google is helping people get killed. Good thing the internet wasn't around during World War Two.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:38am

    Copyright is a weapon

    The trouble with weapons, is that your enemies can take them away and use them against you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 9:54am

    Should have put their shit on a different site instead of playing into the hands of Islamic extremists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tak, 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:00am

    Liability?

    So, given that YouTube was made aware of the threat and ignored it, why can't they be held liable as an accessory to murder if something happens to this guy as a result of their forced disclosure?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 8 Nov 2014 @ 7:09am

      Re: Liability?

      So, given that YouTube was made aware of the threat and ignored it, why can't they be held liable as an accessory to murder if something happens to this guy as a result of their forced disclosure?

      It wasn't forced. They decided, for some reason, that the risk of death was worth it to contest the takedown.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:01am

    Could this be construed as providing support for a terrorist organization?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:01am

    "Copyright isn't really the culprit here."

    Copyright law *is* the problem. Specifically, the DMCA and the choice it creates between providing contact details or having your content shut down by ISPs out of fear of being held liable for somebody else's action.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:07am

      Re:

      Good point. In fact, YT/Google could have spun this into a pretty decent PR moment, where once they became aware of the threat and danger, they could have said 'You know what, never mind, we'll accept the risk if this actually goes to court, so you don't have to put your lives on the line by providing contact detail to a bunch of bloodthirsty morons'.

      PR like that is something you can't buy with any amount of money, and would have gotten them a whole lot of good press.

      Instead, by once more being the monolithic, always silent wall that they're so well known for, now they can add 'tool of terrorist groups to silence dissent' to their resume.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:25am

    One of the reasons I don't particularly like Google has finally showed up with dire results. I don't like a company I can not contact and speak with a real, live person, to resolve some issue. Google has to be one of the worst in this.

    I've seen a lot of the web site owners get taking off of Ad Sense because someone coming to their site, used clicking on ads to trigger fake click traffic. There is no actual ability to contact anyone at Google for resolution. It's the ultimate monolith.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      I don't like a company I can not contact and speak with a real, live person, to resolve some issue.

      There are four options for publishing.
      1) Go via a gatekeeper, that is a traditional publisher, label or studio. Only available if they decide your work is worth publishing.
      2) Use a service like those Provided by Google, where their is no human support, and you have to accept and deal with the use of automated systems. You are guaranteed to be able to publish your work, but it may be taken down.
      3) Join a co-operative that specializes in publishing your style of work, where you will have some support, but few people are likely to find your work.
      4) Build your own website, where you have full control over content etc. This requires that you have an income to support the site, especially is you start to build an audience. The difficulty is finding your audience, but will work if you can also work the social media to sell yourself.

      The last two options can be useful while developing your style, and building you expertise and base fan base, you can go on to some other form of publishing, Like Amazon etc. when your start to sell.

      So for all its problems, Google, and YouTube have enables a large number of people to get their work published, and build up a fan base to where they can make a living from their work.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 7 Nov 2014 @ 12:06pm

        Re: Re:

        "This requires that you have an income to support the site, especially is you start to build an audience."

        If your site doesn't get a huge volume of visitors, then the monetary cost of doing is really can be minimal. Hosting providers charge based on storage space and bandwidth rather than visitor counts, so it's hard to make general estimates, but a lightly popular video site can be done for around $10/mo. Presumably, your income would grow with the site's popularity, so you can scale up as that happens (and the cost per unit falls as the site gets more popular).

        In short, it's possible to get something going and ramp it up even if your whole income is from a minimum wage job.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:34am

    "Don't be evil". Right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:40am

    Serious question. Does what YouTube did qualify as 'Material Support' for terrorism?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 10:52am

      Re:

      "Serious question. Does what YouTube did qualify as 'Material Support' for terrorism?"

      No, because they can afford an army of lawyers. The DOJ won't screw with them as eagerly as they do with those of lesser means.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 7 Nov 2014 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      Does what YouTube did qualify as 'Material Support' for terrorism?

      I don't think that they can file for tax exempt status just because they were doing the job of the government here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 11:13am

    I never thought of using Copyright's notice and takedown system to find out where people live. Genius!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, 7 Nov 2014 @ 11:16am

    Get rekt, U.S. Gov + maximalists

    Copyright supports terrorism. We should ban/fix it. Anyone who disagrees clearly supports the current system, which supports terrorists, therefore anyone who supports the current system supports terrorists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 11:42am

    Once again, USA jurisdiction is the problem

    If Google were not under USA jurisdiction, they would not be bound by the DMCA, and thus there would be no need to request a counter-notification before the channel could be reinstated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 12:54pm

    The simple fix to this is to change the process if some one makes a take down request do not give personal info
    unless the request from a real person or company or a registered legal lawyer .
    Companys that post videos with political content should be especially careful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2014 @ 1:21pm

    Copyright maximalists and Islamic extremists do have a lot in common. They both hate us for our freedoms, they both love censorship and propaganda, they both want to put people in jail for listening to unauthorized music, and they both hate democracy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 7 Nov 2014 @ 11:08pm

      Re:

      But only one of them has barely-clad females shaking their goods in your face in order to sell their wares.

      And no, 40 virgins mentioned in the leaflet text don't count.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    chillinfart, 8 Nov 2014 @ 11:02pm

    O crap

    This means one thing: ISIS=RIAA

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Nov 2014 @ 3:08pm

    Why wasn't the Australian PM Tony "Liar, Liar, pants on fire" Abbott shouting about this "Death Cult" attack on an Australian citizen?

    Let's face it, he's shouted out 'FIRE in the cinema' often enough over the past year to get the world's worst anti-terrorist legislation passed recently with more on the way on far less serious matters. Maybe he will wait until the next bit of the OTT legislation needs to be passed before mentioning it, or maybe Rupert Murdoch hasn't directed him to do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    what does it matter, 28 Dec 2014 @ 1:02am

    Hi Folks

    This idiots : youtube do not get it
    They splash in my face the latest Hollywood vomit - sorry interpretation of well fed pigs :)
    I grew "under the communism" in Bulgaria - and it was a proud self sufficient country - now it is dump site for "western goods". This is what Hollywood does not get - there are other feelings than the full stomach - hahaha - good luck in understanding :)

    North Korea makes simply way way better weapons ( and many times cheaper ) , than any other country on earth and that is WHY - they are enemy :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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