YouTube allows copyright holders to remove videos they deem to be copyright-infringing. However, it turns out that these takedown powers go even further. As it turns out, rightsholders can also remove content before it even exists. That's what happened to a reporter who had his perfectly legal livestream taken down by Warner Bros. before it even started.
To protect copyright holders, YouTube uses advanced tools that flag and disable videos which are used without permission. In addition to this Content-ID system, copyright holders can also submit manual takedown notices to remove infringing content. Both routes have led to abuse in the past, resulting in takedowns of perfectly legitimate videos. This is particularly worrying for channel owners, as these allegations can potentially lead to multiple copyright strikes after which YouTube removes the entire account.
Over the years we have covered takedown mishaps in great detail. However, this week we learned something new. As it turns out, copyright holders also have the ability to remove content that doesn’t exist yet. A preemptive copyright strike, so to speak. This unusual takedown strategy was revealed by Matt Binder, a reporter at Mashable who hosts a podcast named DOOMED, which is also live-streamed through YouTube. Earlier this month, Binder scheduled a show discussing CNN’s Democratic candidates’ debate with progressive activist Jordan Uhl. The show was recorded after the broadcast and in preparation Binder scheduled the podcast’s livestream on YouTube, with “post-Democratic debate” in the title. Many creators use this scheduling feature to announce their upcoming live streams. What’s new, however, is that Binder’s scheduled stream was removed before it even started. In other words, the content was deemed to be infringing before it existed.
Binder documented the unusual episode on Mashable where he also reveals that the takedown notice was issued on behalf of Warner Bros. Entertainment, which owns CNN. “The notice informed me that I had received a copyright strike for my scheduled stream,” Binder writes, noting that YouTube immediately restricted his ability to stream content live. “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,” Binder adds. Apparently, Warner Bros. and CNN were monitoring streams that could potentially infringe on their right to broadcast the Democratic candidate’s debate. Based on the title alone, they mistakenly concluded that Binder’s stream was going to be illegal, which it clearly wasn’t.
As a reporter, Binder followed up the story and reached out directly to YouTube, informing the company that he planned to write about the issue. That worked, as the mistake was soon corrected and the copyright strike disappeared as well. One has to wonder, however, if the average Joe would be able to achieve the same result.