Right on time before flying to Leuven for the upcoming ESF Workshop “Consuming the Illegal“, Google/YouTube published the copyright cartoon perfectly illustrating what the workshop will be about:

The copyright abolitionists over at “Against Monopoly” feature a series entitled “IP as a joke“. But this video, as funny as it may seem, is to be taken completely serious. The background for this crazy/disturbing/awkward “Copyright School” is a change in YouTube’s copyright infringement policies. As repeatedly discussed on this blog (e.g. “This Post is Available in Your Country“) and described by fellow workshop participant Domen Bajde (see “Private Negotiation of Public Goods: Collateral Damage(s)“), users who posted three videos containing (seemingly) infringing content to YouTube have not only lost those videos but all of their videos: their account was deleted.

But since even for copyright lawyers it is often difficult to distinguish between infringing and non-infringing (fair) use (see the workshop paper of Sigrid and myself), a lot of creative users remixing existing works were in constant danger to lose all their uploaded videos due to suddenly becoming a “multiple infringer”. This week, Google has softened this policy a little. “Infringers” are now first sentenced to “copyright school”. On the official YouTube-blog this reads as follows:

If we receive a copyright notification for one of your videos, you’ll now be required to attend “YouTube Copyright School,” which involves watching a copyright tutorial and passing a quiz to show that you’ve paid attention and understood the content before uploading more content to YouTube.

The reason for this move is given below:

YouTube has always had a policy to suspend users who have received three uncontested copyright notifications. This policy serves as a strong deterrent to copyright offenders. However, we’ve found that in some cases, a one-size-fits-all suspension rule doesn’t always lead to the right result. Consider, for example, a long-time YouTube user who received two copyright notifications four years ago but who’s uploaded thousands of legitimate videos since then without a further copyright notification. Until now, the four-year-old notifications would have stayed with the user forever despite a solid track record of good behavior, creating the risk that one new notification — possibly even a fraudulent notification — would result in the suspension of the account. We don’t think that’s reasonable. So, today we’ll begin removing copyright strikes from user’s accounts in certain limited circumstances, contingent upon the successful completion of YouTube Copyright School, as well as a solid demonstrated record of good behavior over time. Expiration of strikes is not guaranteed, and as always, YouTube may terminate an account at any time for violating our Terms of Service.

While changing YouTube’s policy towards “multiple infringers” was already way overdue, I see several problems with the educational “Copyright School” approach. First, as the previous three-strikes-rule, this is again not backed by any copyright law. It is another attempt of establishing a private standard for governing user-generated content. Second, it does not account for national differences in terms of Fair Use or other types of copyright limitations. Third, the video explicitly discourages uploading mash-ups and remixes of existing works by emphasizing that those “may also require permission by the original copyright owner”; the latter is of course true but the “Copyright School” does not help in drawing the line between legitimate and infringing re-use of content.

To a certain degree, Google’s copyright school suffers from trying to reasonably explain unreasonable regulation. Maybe the format and style of the video is Google’s way of expressing that.


PS: Compared to regular series of “Happy Tree Friends”, the “Copyright School” video is relatively modest and bloodless, as can be evidenced by the example below: