Higher Education Law Report
YouTube and False Copyright Infringement Claims
August 29, 2011
Today, most universities and colleges have their own YouTube channel where they host videos about the institution, faculty, and students. These videos often let prospective students interact with the institution in ways not previously possible. While the copyright status of university-created and –uploaded videos is usually obvious, recent events have shown that any YouTube channel can fall victim to false copyright infringement claims. On August 29, 2011, numerous videos from the official YouTube channels of musicians Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and others were removed by YouTube as the result of copyright infringement claims submitted by an entity called “iLCreative.” Like most online content hosts, YouTube has procedures in place that allow copyright holders to notify the host that another person has uploaded content that infringes their copyright. Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, provides an exemption to online service providers from claims of copyright infringement if the provider puts notice and takedown procedures in place. YouTube makes the procedure particularly easy with a Copyright Complaint Form that guides the copyright holder through the process. Unfortunately, while claimants must state under penalty of perjury that they are the actual owner of the rights in question and that the use complained of is not authorized, service providers are not arbiters of copyright claims and must respond in an automated fashion rather than analyzing the merits of each claim. Once YouTube receives a claim, it then notifies the content provider who can provide “counter-notice” that the material does not infringe copyrights. Submitting false copyright infringement claims can have serious consequences. Anyone submitting a claim must have a YouTube account, and false claims can result in termination of that account. Further, section 512(f) of the DMCA subjects anyone who makes false copyright infringement claims to liability for damages, although identifying the individual and proving damages can be challenging. Shortly after they were taken down as a result of the false copyright claims, the music videos by Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and others were returned. The Take Home Message If your YouTube video or other online content is removed due to a copyright infringement claim, don’t panic. Confirm that you own the copyrights or have authorization to use the content in question, and work with the service provider to return the content to the site. In many cases the content will be returned in a matter of hours or days.