Emilio Estevez Uses Some Public Domain Footage In Film, So Universal Studios Forces Original Public Domain Footage Offline
from the copyright-as-censorship dept
Yet another example of the awfulness of copyright filters. Back in 2006, librarian Michael Sauers posted a public domain film (a US government production) called “Your Life Work: The Librarian” to YouTube. If you don’t know, “Your Life Work” was a series of educational shorts that, according to the Internet Archive, were “meant to inspire young post-depression workers into specific new careers.” One of those careers? Librarian. Sauers’ upload of the video has lived happily on YouTube for over 12 years until a few days ago when, if you visited it, you saw this instead:
If you can’t see that, it says that the video is unavailable, stating: “This video contains content from NBC Universal, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”
Now, that’s obviously bullshit, because the video is in the public domain. So, what happened? Well, the takedown notice that Sauers received reveals what almost certainly happened:
If you can’t see that, it shows that the video taken down is entitled “Your Life Work: The Librarian.” But the “copyrighted content” is listed as “The Public.” If you don’t know, “The Public” is a new movie written, directed and starring Emilio Estevez. The plot of the movie — involving a group of homeless library patrons who refuse to leave a public library in Ohio during a bitter cold winter — sounds interesting, and it appears this was a labor of love for Estevez, who worked on the film for the better part of a decade. He must have been thrilled back in January when Universal Pictures acquired the rights to the film.
Earlier this month, the film got an actual theatrical release, and apparently Universal Pictures does what all the big Hollywood Studios do: upload all the content to YouTube’s ContentID tool to make sure no one has offered up a pirated copy.
There was just one problem. It appears that Estevez included a clip of “Your Life Work: The Librarian” within the movie (in which he, himself, plays a librarian). He, of course, is free to do so (thanks to the public domain), and having put that clip into his movie doesn’t magically make that clip covered by copyright. But what the fuck does Universal Pictures care about pesky little things like the public domain and librarians’ YouTube accounts? It’s a big important Hollywood studio, and if it stomps out public domain material and ends up giving strikes to actual librarians, well, it’s all good because it must “stop piracy.”
So, Universal doesn’t bother making sure that the public domain parts are excised from what it gives ContentID, and ContentID identifies a match… and bye bye public domain material, and Sauers now faces having a copyright strike on his account. Sauers has said he’s disputed the claim, but now he has to wait around and see if Universal comes to its senses and withdraws the claim, or decides to double down.
Once again, this is why expecting automated filters to work is a real problem — and it’s doubly obnoxious that companies like Universal Pictures (and the MPAA that represents it) have been among the leading voices calling for more internet filters and things like “notice and staydown” which would effectively be used to block even more such content. Hopefully, Universal/YouTube restore Sauer’s video soon, but it’s just another example of how copyright is frequently used to take down perfectly legitimate speech.
In the meantime, though, you can still see Your Life Work: The Librarian at the Internet Archive… at least until Universal Pictures goes after it as well.