As most of you reading this know, I am a very small name music reviewer and video game reviewer for my site at https://nerdcircleonline.wordpress.com/ (I used to do stuff on here and probably will still occasionally come back to here if I need to say something that I can't do on my site). I have done VLOGs on YouTube in the past, I have done writing for a few sites in the past (sometimes under the name Nemo Atkins, sometimes under my real life name of William Brown), I host a local radio show on the radio station Lionheart Radio, I will be acting in a web series that, if it gets the full funding, will be filmed in the summer and I likely will be adding video game streaming to Twitch to my range of stuff in the future. I'm definitely not someone who wants to be viewed as a figurehead or anything like that: I'm honestly just happy doing my stuff and leaving it at that. I also don't like talking about serious stuff because I try to keep myself neutral on stuff and avoid speaking on issues that people will have almost certainly heard before and told far better than I can manage.
However, this is something that I need to discuss, because it affects so many people and is not something that is going to improve by staying silent.
The source of this article is an editorial released yesterday by Doug Walker, best known for the Nostalgia Critic series of video reviews. Now, I will admit, I have lost interest in watching Walker's series over the last year or so. For me, I feel that the pacing of episodes has started to drag horribly due to the addition of sketches which, while not necessarily badly acted, take too long to reach a payoff and which don't tend to be worth the wait, I find the more mean spirited comments since the revival to not be amusing to hear and I strongly dislike the decision to move towards clipless reviews. I mean this with no disrespect to Walker as a person, obviously, and I will certainly urge readers who are not familiar with his work to give his stuff a watch (I will even be kind enough to say that you should try episodes from both before the reboot and after the reboot and not to take my viewpoint on the current day episodes of the show to be the only viewpoint worth holding), but his series has just lost me as a viewer and I only stay subscribed to his site's channel because I can't be bothered to unsubscribe from it due to having other larger priorities than that.
The editorial (link here), however, is one that I felt was worth giving a fair shot, as I am well aware of the issues with YouTube's copyright system from listening to individuals like TotalBiscuit, Angry Joe and Jim Sterling talk about them and even having a few brief encounters with copyright issues myself on my own videos (although not to the extent of any of the previously named individuals). The points that were raised in the editorial were nothing new to me, but I felt it was worth adding my two cents to the debate, if only so I can explain my own copyright stories and hopefully help to showcase exactly why YouTube's system needs a complete overhaul.
The point of free use, as most people would be able to tell you, is the ability to use copyrighted material outside of the original context it was created. For example, a review would be able to include images, sounds and the like from something if it is being done for review purposes, entertainment purposes and the like. This is obviously meant to counter stuff like posting entire episodes of a show onto YouTube and, while you can definitely find channels which do stuff like that, the vast majority of people do try to do that. While video reviews can arguably fall into a grey area if they're used to make money, most people would agree that a video review is still a review and, as such, should be protected by fair use laws.
Unfortunately, YouTube's system for copyright is badly designed and, as a result, can be exploited. And it is, quite badly.
For those of you reading this who have never put content onto YouTube in the past and aren't familiar with the details of this, YouTube's system for copyright is that, if you own the copyright for something, you can put out a claim on a video if you feel that it is infringing upon your intellectual properly. On paper, this is actually a good thing, since it allows you to stop people from illegally sharing your work. However, the system is designed in a way which is badly flawed in several ways:
- The person making the claim does not have to prove that they own the copyrighted material and does not have to have actually watched the video themselves to make the claim.
- The person making the claim have full power to monetise your videos, take whatever money you make from monetising the video away from you, block your videos or even threaten legal action against you, even if your video is one that you are not monetising yourself.
- The person making the claim suffers nothing from making the claim, even if the claim is proven to be by someone who does not own the copyrighted material and they release the claim later.
- The person whose video has been claimed suffers a lot of issues if their channel receives a single strike against their channel, which can include an inability to monetise their videos or even having time limits imposed upon any videos they upload to their channel.
- The claim can continually be contested by the person making the claim, potentially meaning that even contesting a claim does not guarantee that the issue will be resolved, for the claim could keep being put back up.
My personal stories involving copyright are based on four incidents. Here is a screenshots of the claims on my channel at the time of writing:
Gamma Ray VS Helloween video:
Cardfight!! Vanguard VLOG:
Doctor Who rant:
Comix Zone test stream:
For the sake of reference, I do not monetise my own videos and the stream was purely a test stream to see if my streaming software was working. It is because of this claim on the stream that I plan to move towards Twich if I take up streaming in the future,
Here's the funny thing: in all of the videos, there were more tracks in the videos than were given copyright claims (I had ten tracks total in the Helloween VS Gamma Ray video, four in the Cardfight!! Vanguard video, two in the Doctor Who video and, obviously, the entire game's soundtrack in the test stream) and I included a disclaimer at the end of everything except for the stream saying that the music was not intended to breach copyright laws and was simply being used for backing music. Yet I still got the claims all the same.
I'm sure most people reading this will agree that what I did would be covered under free use: I was not playing the full song, what I was doing was for entertainment purposes and the songs were not the key focus of the video. Yet I still got the claims.
Now, I'm lucky in that, for my reviews now, I work in a written medium and keep backup copies of everything I wrote to prove that I was the original author of what I've written. But these claims show just how broken the system is, and I'm saying this as someone who doesn't rely on YouTube to pay bills and whatnot.
Here's the thing that makes it worse: there are cases of people using YouTube's system to take down negative criticism of their products. Examples that spring to mind are TotalBiscuit's troubles with the developers of Guise of the Wolf and Digital Homicide's attempts to silence Jim Sterling when he critiqued their game The Slaughtering Grounds. This is directly breaching the law on free speech, which is that you are allowed to say what you want to. It does NOT mean that you can say stuff which is racist or stuff like that without receiving responses to your words, but it means that it is illegal to censor someone else's opinion just because you do not like it.
You might be reading this and think "Oh, people don't do that, surely?"
Yes. Yes, they do. And, because of the earlier mentioned "no consequences for filing unlawful claims" issue, they can keep doing it for as long as they want to without fear of retribution. And they could potentially monetise a video they had no part in making for a copyright they do not have, meaning that they could potentially make money off of someone else's hard work with no risk to themselves if they get caught.
That, luckily, is unlikely to happen, But the fact that it COULD happen is particularly unpleasant, especially if the person who has had their channel hit with the claim has to use the money they get from their videos to live and the claim continually gets reinstated without ever going to court.
Oh yeah, and the thing that makes this worse? In real life, filing a false claim to try to force someone to do something is a criminal offence which can earn you prison time and, if you are in the legal profession, get you disbarred. False copyright strikes? No penalty except MAYBE having your ability to send out claims stopped if you repeatedly do it. Which can be got around by making a new email and a new YouTube channel in less than half an hour.
Not a great situation to be in if you want to get into content creation, is it? Even if you make something truly original, someone could falsely claim that you are stealing their work and make money off of your work with no fear of retribution if they get caught.
Is there a way to fix this system? Yes.
- Penalize those who make false claims.
- Make copyright claims only be available to make by manually selecting an option at the end of a video to minimize copyright strikes against reviews or videos which fall under fair use.
- Allow monetising of unmonetised videos with material from copyrighted sources only if a claim is resolved in the favor of the claimant.
- Money generated from a previously monetised video is placed in a third party account until the claim is resolved.
- Make a requirement that the person making the claim has to prove that they own the copyright before they can make a claim.
- Make a dedicated helpline so that people who receive false claims can contact someone for help quickly.
Will those completely fix the system? No, but they'll go a long way towards sorting it out. But it almost certainly won't happen, because it's probably going to be seen as too much work by YouTube's makers and Google won't want to put that much work into making that happen, so good luck seeing those changes happen!
I've already rambled on far too much, so I'm going to finish off by saying this: the internet is a wonderful tool when used right. It has so much information on it on so many topics that it is pretty much guaranteed that you can search for anything and you'll find it somewhere, it allows people to keep in contact who might never be able to speak to each other, it allows people to share their love of different things together in ways that they might not have been able to manage without it and it is a way to share stuff that might not have an opportunity to reach people normally. But the potential to abuse it for your own selfish needs is all too real. YouTube's copyright system is all the proof you need of what happens when people abuse the internet for their own selfish reasons and, until the system stops putting an ungodly amount of power and authority over people's entire livelihood in the hands of the rest of the internet without repercussions if you are caught trying to do what would be breaking the law if it was done in real life, it is not going to get better.