Journalism 202: YouTube and Copyright Issues

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This post is an assignment for my Journalism 202 class — please keep that in mind when reading. [Current Events]

Stepping away from traditional media for a moment, many journalists – especially those who’ve been in the business for a while – tend to forget that just a few clicks away on their computers, a revolution is happening with how Internet users reach out to other people. With networking sites like YouTube, content creators abound.

A particularly fast-growing subset of the YouTube population is gamers and the gaming community, especially creators who film videos called “Let’s Plays” which serve as walkthroughs of a game. Although these videos are popular – a particularly famous uploader, “PewDiePie“, is the most-subscribed user on YouTube – they’re always in danger of copyright claims by game companies and publishers, most of whom turn a blind eye to these videos, as long as they’re not monetized.

The users’ foothold becomes even more shaky considering Google’s copyright policy, which acts as a “shut-down-and-ask-questions-later” rule, where practically anybody can shut down a video by filing a copyright claim, legitimate or otherwise. Therefore, when Google stepped up its policy recently, doling out copyright infringement notices left and right, people erupted. The following excerpt is from Polygon, a news website focused on gaming news:

“A floodgate has opened and we have gone from getting maybe one [copyright notice] every few weeks to getting hundreds in one day,” said Zach Drapala, aka GhostRobo, who operates a Machinima channel with over 600,000 subscribers. “It’s crazy. Nothing like this has happened before.”

He said that “half of the claims” are coming from companies that have no clear connection with the games, and that others are coming from game companies that are normally supportive of video producers.

“It’s like YouTube just vomited out all these claims,” Drapala told Polygon. “It’s not from some legitimate games companies. I don’t see how they are even associated with the games they are making claims on.” He said that one claim had come from a company stating that it owns the copyright to a song played, in-game, on a radio station.

Google’s YouTube copyright policy has been under fire for a long time, but in the wake of recent events, the magma has risen above the surface. This level of unprecedented 1984-esque crackdowns by Google set the gaming press, as well as the community, abuzz in ways that serve as a hands-on lesson about what a passionate group of like-minded individuals can do to change the course of human events.

Community aggregator sites like Reddit blew up after the incident, with hundreds of comments speaking out against Google and linking to dozens of videos, some by well-known YouTubers.

YouTube, on their part, said this (via GameSpot, another gaming news site):

“We recently enabled Content ID scanning on channels identified as affiliates of [Multi Channel Networks],” the YouTube representative said. “This has resulted in new copyright claims for some users, based on policies set by the relevant content owners. As ever, channel owners can easily dispute Content ID claims if they believe those claims are invalid.”

However, to be honest – when a thirty-minute video gets taken down because of seventeen seconds of copyrighted music, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

The main thing to take away from this story is that as people become more plugged in with the shared online universe we enjoy, and more of them become content creators, it’s necessary to think critically about how current copyright laws can be changed and/or molded to suit the new reality.

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