Blown To Bits

YouTube Takedowns

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Google’s YouTube is huge, much huger than any other video sharing service. Like Google’s search service, it has become the place to go for a certain kind of information — a kind of information that is rapidly becoming a part of daily life for millions of people, especially the young. Like Google search, there is absolutely no barrier to someone starting a competing service, except for the quality of the product and the snowball effect — people tend to use the service they know other people are using, especially for sharing information.

So when information becomes unavailable on YouTube, it’s interesting to notice, and to wonder what principles govern the decision to remove material at the request of a complaining party. Two recent examples of YouTube takedowns:

The first is an Air Force recruiting video someone posted to YouTube. A blogger for the online edition of Wired Magazine, Kevin Poulsen, linked to it from a short piece about the fight against cyberterrorism. The Air Force issued a DCMA takedown notice to Poulsen, and if you go to the original post and try to play the video, you discover it’s no longer available. The curious thing about this one is that the people of the U.S. own that video. In fact, the Air Force web site on which the video appears (it’s still available there) states,¬†”Information presented on the Air Force Recruiting website is considered public information and may be distributed or copied.” This is a simple abuse of copyright law, a club that the powerful use to whack those who use their creations for no other reason than to comment on them. Even when they don’t have the legal right they claim, the DCMA is an effective tool against small players who would have to hire lawyers to defend themselves.

The second example is a video documentary about Sarah Palin’s church, which YouTube removed not, apparently, because of a copyright complaint, but just because a bunch of people complained about it. It contains some odd segments (“cell phone anointing”?) but there is no apparent fraud; as far as I can see no one claims that the shots are not of what they seem to be. In this case the video is still visible, though not at YouTube (click the link to the article).

Private censorship. It’s perfectly legal; none of us owes YouTube anything, and they can post or take down whatever they want. And they have absolutely no obligation to tell us why they take things down or when they would resist a request to take something down. I would guess that the rule is pretty simple, and it’s like what we say about search engines in Blown to Bits: The objective is to make as many people happy as much of the time as possible, with the ultimate goal of making as much money as possible for as long as possible. Nothing wrong with any of that, but we shouldn’t get carried away with grand thoughts about “digital democracy” and the “triumph of popular culture.” Nonsense — business is business.

2 Responses to “YouTube Takedowns”

  1. Censorship is good business | Antony Loewenstein Says:

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