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YouTube Pulls Live Stream Over Copyright Claim Before It Even Starts

Issues over YouTube’s handling of copyright enforcement reached a new level recently, after one YouTuber found their live stream had been taken down thanks to a copyright claim from Warner Bros. before it had even started.

Guest post by Timothy Geigner of Techdirt

It seems that the concern over how YouTube is handling its platform when it comes to enforcing copyright claims is reaching something of a fever pitch. Hell, in just the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a YouTuber have his videos demonitized over copyright claims to the numbers “36” and “50”, rampant abuse of ContentID even as the EU edges closer to making that platform a requirement through Article 17, and wider concerns about YouTube’s inability to enforce moderation at scale in a way that makes even a modicum of sense. The point is that it’s becoming all the more clear that YouTube’s efforts at content moderation and copyright enforcement on its site are becoming a nightmare.

And perhaps there is no better version of that nightmare than when one YouTube streamer found his live stream taken down when Warner Bros. claimed copyright on it… before that live stream had even begun. Matt Binder hosts the political podcast “DOOMED with Matt Binder.” He also livestreams the show on YouTube. The night of the last Democratic Presidential debate, he scheduled a livestream to discuss the debate with a guest.

Earlier in the evening, I’d scheduled a YouTube livestream, as I always do the night of a debate, in order to discuss the event with progressive activist Jordan Uhl after CNN’s broadcast wrapped up. I’d even labeled it as a “post-Democratic debate” show featuring Uhl’s name directly in the scheduled stream title. These post-debate shows consist entirely of webcam feeds of my guest and myself, split-screen style, breaking down the night’s events. Shortly after setting up the stream, which wasn’t scheduled to start for hours, I received an email from YouTube:

“[Copyright takedown notice] Your video has been taken down from YouTube.”

The notice informed me that I had received a copyright strike for my scheduled stream. That one copyright strike was enough to disable livestreaming on my channel for the strike’s three-month duration. If I were to accumulate three strikes, YouTube would just shut down my channel completely, removing all of my content.

Reasonable people can disagree on just how much collateral damage is acceptable when enforcing copyright. What no reasonable person can agree with is the idea that a livestream ought to be taken down and a 3 month stream ban be put in place over copyright on content that hasn’t even been created yet. In fact, were there a perfect antithesis to the entire point of copyright law, it certainly must be this: the prevention of valid content creation via copyright claim.

So, what happened? Well, it appears based on the notice that Warner Bros., parent company for CNN, issued the copyright claim. CNN hosted the debate and Binder’s reference in the title of his stream may have caused someone at WB to think that this was either the stream of the event, which would be copyright infringement, or a stream of CNN’s post-debate commentary, which would also be copyright infringement. This was, after all, a manual block, not some automated system. But, mistake or not, this shows a glaring flaw in CNN’s enforcement of copyright.

“Your case is the most extreme I’ve heard about. Congratulations,” Electronic Frontier Foundation Manager of Policy and Activism, Katharine Trendacosta, said to me in a phone conversation on the issue. “This is the first time I’ve heard about this happening to something that didn’t contain anything. And I have heard a lot of really intense stories about what’s happening on YouTube.”

If there were any question that there are serious problems in YouTube’s enforcement mechanism, this situation answers those questions. YouTube ended up reversing the copyright strike, of course, but the damage in this case had already been done. Binder was unable to stream that night, all because YouTube is so bent towards claimers of copyright rather than its own content producers that its enforcement cannot possibly work without massive collateral damage, such as this.

I suspect we’re going to continue to see these situations arise, until YouTube takes a hard look at its policies.

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