YouTube is a phenomenon and truly one of the most innovative and enjoyable things on the Net. The commercial potential of the site is huge – which is no doubt why Google paid $1.65bn for it. But the very nature of the site is, or should be, that it is user and content driven. Without those of us who are users and who provide content YouTube would die – which is why it is a shame that those who run the site can be cavalier in their disregard for their users – even cruel.

A friend of mine is an occasional user of YouTube – not a fanatic but an occasional of uploader of material and viewer of others videos. He is also a sports fan and takes his small digital camera along with him when he goes to sports events. The photos he takes at these events he sometimes uploads to Flickr or Facebook and the videos that he sometimes takes with the same simple camera he uploads to YouTube – or he did until recently. He had uploaded a couple of short clips he had taken at football matches and another from a cricket match. They were all short and of very amateur quality – but they were quite fun, harmless and well viewed by other sports fans. Until, that is, the heavy hand of YouTube’s copyright gauleiters hit him. My friend assumed that what he was doing was consistent with the advice on the site regarding uploads which is:   

“Important: Do not upload any TV shows, music videos, music concerts or commercials without permission, unless they consist entirely of content that you created yourself.”

His sports clips conformed to this rule – they were self-evidently content that my friend had created himself. They were also obviously not commercial in any way. So you can imagine my friend’s surprise when he received notification for YouTube that the clips had been removed. This was the Email he received: 

“This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by NetResult claiming that this material is infringing”

And when he next visited the site he found not only that the “offending” clips had been removed but that he whole account had been terminated! Now clearly YouTube had the right to ban my friend and to refuse to reinstate his membership even though he apologised for his unwitting error. But the story does raise some questions about copyright and YouTube’s actions when they receive a complaint. And it also raises questions about those who complain.

NetResult  is a company “that specialises in Internet monitoring and enforcement”. So presumably the copyright holders at the football and cricket matches instruct NetResult to monitor the net and to seek out any infringements. Then NetResult tell YouTube and the “offending” video clips are removed. Obviously the subject of copyright is an important one and blatant and commercially driven copyright infringements need to be tracked down and dealt with – as do those who criminally infringe copyright. But in the instance I have reported here surely this was a sledgehammer to crack a nut? My friend was not trying to secure any commercial advantage and certainly nobody could have thought that his self-made clips were anything other than amateur and done for fun. The TV broadcasters and the rights owners at the matches were in no way disadvantaged by the posting of the clips on YouTube. Indeed given the ubiquity of YouTube it could be argued that interest in the events is enhanced by amateur videos like these and not only is their posting not harmful but that it is actually helpful publicity.

The law can be an Ass sometimes. It is time for all of the parties involved; the commercial rights holders at sports events, the copyright owners (broadcasters etc.), NetResult and YouTube to be more discriminating. It damages the brand and reputation of Google and of YouTube when they act in a heavy-handed way. Time for a change.

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