Copyright Law in the Youtube Era

by | Mar 21, 2019 | Business Feature

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine life without Youtube. Started 14 years ago with a selection of heavily pixelated clips, the streaming platform now welcomes 1.9 billion monthly users, with 80% of 18-49 year olds using the service on a regular basis.

If you are a fan of the platform, over the last year you will probably have noticed a recurring discussion amongst your favourite creators around copyright law. This is because problems stemming from both Youtube’s internal copyright policies and shifts in European legislation are threatening the very core of online content creation.

So, what are the issues and what does it mean for creators on Youtube, Twitch and other streaming services?

Copyright on Youtube

Youtube operates a very active copyright policy, intended to protect the intellectual property of its creators from being duplicated by other users. If a user is deemed to have stolen another creator’s content, they can be hit with a ‘copyright strike’ that removes the video, either at the request of the original creator or through Youtube’s detection software.

This can be anything from an individual taking exception to their video being reused elsewhere, right through to global record labels like Sony and Universal striking content that uses one of their artist’s music.

The problem for many creators is that they rely on other’s material to produce their content. For example, many channels are based solely on reviewing other’s content to produce critiques, thus their videos can heavily feature material that isn’t technically theirs to show.

Over the past year or so, more and more copyright strikes have been handed out to creators who feature material in this way. Infringements can be anything from reusing a full video through to featuring a few seconds of a popular song.

Fair Use

To counteract copyright claims, creators can use the ‘fair use’ argument. Fair use gives creators the right to use copyrighted content under certain circumstances such as for criticism, reporting, teaching and research.

A famous legal case involving fair use concerned the popular review channel H3H3 winning over Matt Hoss Zone (Hosseinzadeh vs. Klein). H3H3 were able to argue their use of a Matt Hoss Zone video was part of their own original content and not a market duplicate, thus winning under the fair use concept.

Whilst this sets a useful precedent for other content creators, the Hosseinzadeh vs. Klein case was a lengthy and expensive legal process that the vast majority of Youtubers would simply not be able to afford to initiate. What this means is that many copyright strike cases are fightable, but out of reach for everyday creators.

Article 13

Outside of Youtube’s internal struggles, the platform faces significant external trouble from the EU Copyright Directive, otherwise known as Article 13, which will be voted on to become law within the next few weeks.

Article 13 says content-sharing services must license copyright-protected material from the rights holders, and if they don’t then they will be held liable.

What this potentially means for Youtube is it would have to pre-emptively license all material in case of its users uploading it. This task would be both financially and practically impossible to carry out.

Should Article 13 be passed, Youtube faces the possibility of completely blocking its European network as to avoid being in constant infringement of new EU copyright law.

Article 13 also brings up highly complex questions around copyright on the game-streaming giant Twitch, as well as other streaming services like Dailymotion.

What Does This All Mean?

So, there’s currently plenty of different copyright issues at play, but what does this mean for creators and streaming services alike?

Regarding Youtube’s copyright and fair use policies, the overwhelming concern is that the nature and quality of content on the site is being heavily impacted by the rise of copy striking. The problem lies in how easy copyright strikes are to request, and the almost ‘willy-nilly’ nature of their distribution.

Copyright strikes also enable the complainant to claim the monetary benefits of videos using their content, which has led to a rise in unjustified claims that are actioned by Youtube, seemingly without much question.

Many creators are either having their content removed or are hesitant to use it in the first place. A lot of quality and original material is being lost because of this, negatively affecting both consumer experience and creator output.

Fair use is designed to negate this, but the fact of the matter is that most Youtubers simply cannot afford to engage in the legal process required to successfully battle a copyright strike.

As for Article 13, should it pass, European creators face a potential catastrophe. For global streaming sources like Youtube, Twitch and Dailymotion, there will be huge administrative and legal concerns.

For anyone concerned or affected by the matters above, it might be worth seeking advice from a litigation lawyer in what promises to be a continuing and complex problem.

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