Everybody loves YouTube, right? This video sharing website really needs no introduction, considering it is the third most popular website on the internet only passed by Google and Facebook. While of course there are a ton of people who visit their website for entertainment or just sharing funny moments with your friends, there also is a lot of people who make YouTube videos as a job. I’ve talked about people like PewDiePie, Markiplier, Danisnotonfire, and AmazingPhil before, but there are a whole lot more people who have monetized their videos so they make money off of it. While some people make fully original content like sketch comedy shows or vlogs, even more people are known for including copyrighted content for review purposes or something similar. How is this legal? Through a little thing called “fair use.”
Fair use is the law that protects the use of a copyrighted work as long as it’s being used for a specific purpose. To find what the law specifically states, go here. In case you don’t feel like going on a different website right now, it says you are legally allowed to use a portion of a copyrighted work in your own project as long as it’s being used for critique, commentary, journalism, education, or research, along with some other factors like the effect on the source material. Now this seems like a pretty simple rule to follow, and YouTube has a system in place to make it easier for people to punish those who don’t follow this rule. So what’s the problem? Well unfortunately, no system is without its flaws.
This system as it is now lets companies add their copyrighted content into a database. YouTube will then search for videos with a substantial portion of the content in it, and the owner of said content will be notified. The owner can then do several things, including but not limited to taking the video down, putting their own ads before the video, taking the video’s ad revenue, giving the channel a copyright strike which removes some of the user’s privileges and works on a “three strikes and you’re out” rule where “you’re out” means the channel is taken down, or just remove the entire channel if they want to. Not only does YouTube automatically mark videos that have copyrighted content, but companies can also manually flag videos they think is infringing on their copyright (yeah, can’t imagine how that could be misused.)
Obviously this system has been misused to steal ad revenue that rightfully belongs to the content creator and take down videos or entire channels that have expressed negative views towards the material being reviewed (and even some that express positive views oddly enough.) Oh, don’t worry if this doesn’t sound too bad, because it gets worse! Did I mention that companies get no penalty whatsoever for false claims, and YouTubers can also only fight three claims at a time? Videos that are marked for copyright infringement also don’t need to be reviewed by an actual human being at YouTube if you try to fight the claim.
One instance of something like this happening involved several videos about the video game Shining Force being removed by SEGA even though some of them had no content from the game even in it. The content of most of these videos? They were part of a campaign to get some Japan-exclusive games localized in America. They weren’t negative reviews like a lot of these false claims, they weren’t straight uploads of an entire movie, they were just fans expressing how much they wanted to play a game while showing no content from the game itself in most cases. Another instance that isn’t exactly about fair use but does involve this system being abused was when Viacom had been complaining about copyright infringement even when some of the clips used as examples were uploaded by Viacom themselves! This clearly shows that the system we have now has been abused multiple times.
This system desperately needs to change. For one thing, we shouldn’t limit the number of claims content creators can fight at a time. There also really needs to be a penalty for people that give out false claims. People all over the internet have been spreading the word using the hashtag #WTFU. Hopefully something will finally change, because it’s about time we ask ourselves, where’s the fair use?