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Disputing YouTube Content ID Takedowns

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Fair Us Logo
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Fair Use Logo by Odinn 2007 CC-BY-SA 

Brief Assignment Overview: 

As part fo the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, content service providers (such as YouTube) are given safe harbor from prosecution if they take certain steps to prevent copyright infringement. Unfortunately, this has led to a "shoot first and ask questions later" approach on YouTube's part. If you do any sort of video assignments that require students to post to YouTube, you will most likely have to dispute a Content ID automatic takedown. Content ID is YouTube's automated system for flagging copyrighted content. It searches over 20 hours of video footage a minute to look for cpyrighted media "footprints." While it is a marvel of modern technology, the system is imperfect and tends to skew toward the side of major media companies, rather than individual consumers or producers. 

Type of Assignment: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This lesson plan helps students and instructors understand the four Fair Use factors articulated in the Copyright Act of 1976. Ideally, students and instructors should leave this lesson with increased confidence in disputing a false copyright claim. A YouTube Content ID notice can be frightening for anyone, and especially frightening for someone who doesn't understand Fair Use. The notices themselves can have chilling effects on free speech, so it's important to exercise Fair Use principles. 

Required Materials: 

For this assignment, you'll need a YouTube account and a video that has been flagged by YouTube's Content ID system. Jenny Howell has an excellent lesson plan on introducing students to iMovie production. Most mashup videos will be flagged by Content ID, especially if the video clips used are from major motion pictures. 

For the assignment, students will need to bring in the original video they created as well, as they'll be assessing Fair Use and the video is not available via YouTube (for now).

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

As part fo the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, content service providers (such as YouTube) are given safe harbor from prosecution if they take certain steps to prevent copyright infringement. Unfortunately, this has led to a "shoot first and ask questions later" approach on YouTube's part. If you do any sort of video assignments that require students to post to YouTube, you will most likely have to dispute a Content ID automatic takedown. Content ID is YouTube's automated system for flagging copyrighted content. It searches over 20 hours of video footage a minute to look for cpyrighted media "footprints." While it is a marvel of modern technology, the system is imperfect and tends to skew toward the side of major media companies, rather than individual consumers or producers. 

A few caveats:

1. It's important to note that Fair Use is ony an affirmative defense; that is, it can only be invoked if a copyright holder has accused you of copyright infringement. In the context of YouTube's Content ID system, what you're essentially doing is telling a human somewhere that the automated system has made a correct match, but it was ok for you to use the media in the first place. 

2. It's also important to note that this is a legal matter. If you dispute the claim, the copyright holder can sue you. However, the cpyright holder can sue you even without your dispute, as the Content ID system is only a way to identify possible infringers. This threat of litigation is scary, and it is most often what frightens students and instructors away from exercising their free speech rigths. While you should not interpret this lesson plan as legal advice, it's important to teach students the value of flexing their free speech muscles. If you don't practice these rights, they quietly go away. 

3. This step in the process is only to ensure that a human reviews the reasons the video was flagged and taken down. After review by a human, the copyright holder may still issue a DMCA takedown notice, at which point you may dispute even that. This takedown notice counts as a strike against your YouTube account. Three strikes, and YouTube freezes your account and deletes all your videos.

As outlined in the Copyrighjt Act of 1976, Fair Use consists of four factors:

1. The purpose and character of your use. If you have somehow transformed the nature of the original by using it, your use is more likely fair. Commentary, parody, reporting, and education are some uses that tend to fall on the Fair Use side. Most likely, your video has some educational aims, as it was created for a course. 

2. The nature of the copyrighted work. Fair Use protects factual works more than fictional ones. If the original work was a clip from a major romantic comedy, then your use is less likely fair. This doesn't mean that you cannot use clips from fictional works. It only means that this factor may not be in your favor. 

3. The amount used from the copyrighted work. Shorter is better, but this is a qualitative assessment. Use only the portion ofthe work needed to get your point across. Rarely is use of an entire song or video considered Fair Use. 

4. The impact of your video on the market. Does your use of the copyrighted work affect its value? If you are making money off of your creation, your use is less likely Fair Use. In the case of YouTube, an example that isn't Fair Use would be using an entire song to drive traffic to your channel where you have monetized the account (provided advertising). Because your video was created for a class, though, chances are you are not making money off of it. 

For this lesson, you may want students to read about Fair Use from the US Copyright Office or Stanford's summary of Fair Use cases.

When students write papers for an audience of one, the teacher, there isn't much risk in running up against copyright law. However, in an increasingly connected world, student expressions collide with media companies' interests. Discussing Fair Use in the abstract is good, but actual practice of free speech in the "real world" beyond academia can have consequences. If we are going to prepare our students to communicate in the 21st century, we must not only have conversations about these risks and rewards, but we need to practice this communication as well. 

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

This assignment can only be done if there has actually been a Content ID match. Surprisingly, these are pretty common. I've also done a rhetorical analysis of YouTube's content ID system for viz. that you may want to check out ahead of time. In the past, some collegaues I know have assigned students to post to YouTube, only to have those videos removed by Content ID the day before students were to present them. With a little planning, such an incident can be a teaching moment rather than a freak-out moment for students. It's ideal to have students upload their videos a couple of days before you'd like to give this lesson. Conversely, you could create a video mashup of your own, being sure to follow Fair Use guidelines, and upload it to YouTube yourself. 

Instructions For Students: 

Students should work in pairs or small groups. After reviewing the Fair Use guidelines at the US Copyright Office's website, students should view each video and discuss Fair Use for each copyrighted audiovisual element used. Use these questions to help guide you:

  1. What is the overall purpose of the student's video? What evidence from the video can you point to that supports this purpose?
  2. For each audiovisual element used, give a one-sentence statement about what it does for the overall video. How is this media being used? To what ends?
  3. What is the nature of the original work? Is it more factual or more creative?
  4. How much of the copyrighted work is used? Give a time for each element. 
  5. Would the student's video take any money away from the copyright holder? How so or why not? (Keep in mind, this is potential money. The copyright holder doesn't have to currently be earning money in this way.)
  6. Could the copyrighted media used be replaced by any other media without changing the meaning or impact? 

Once all students' videos have been reviewed, a few should be presented to the class to model the dicsussion. Following this, students should decide whether they think their own video has used outside media under Fair Use guidelines. 

Now comes the dispute part. If you truly believe your video was falsely flagged, then you'll want to file a dispute. Log in to your YouTube Account. In the Video Manager, click on "Copyright Notices" on the left menu. If your video has been flagged, you will see something like the picture below:

Image Credit: YouTube

Clicking on any of those links will take you to a page where you can dispute the Content ID block. To do so, click on the "I believe this copyright claim is not valid" link. Here, you can choose one of three reasons why your video should not be removed:

  1. The Content ID system falsely flagged your material; there is no copyrighted media used in your video.
  2. Your use of others media is Fair Use.
  3. You have permission from the copyright holder to use the material. 

Most likely, your answer will be #2. Be sure to indicate in the box provided why you think your use is Fair Use. 

Evaluation Suggestions: 

This lesson is not evaluated. 

Course Description: 

This lesson plan can be used with any course, provided that course uses YouTube. 

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