Did YouTube Copyright Rules Help to Silence Activists?

File this under “dirty tricks” if you’re the sort of person who files things! The Australian environmental activist group Get Up! is claiming that its opponents have exploited YouTube’s copyright policies in a sneaky attempt to silence them. The group, which campaigns for various social and environmental causes, suggests that an anti-coal video they produced may have been pulled from their channel by a strategically timed copyright claim just before a critical vote on the issue.

The video was allegedly produced by Get Up! to educate the public about a proposed coal transportation facility that could potentially endanger part of the Great Barrier Reef. The video highlights other environmental abuses by Adani, the energy conglomerate that would own and operate the expanded facility. That video, “Can We Trust Adani With Our Great Barrier Reef?”, was posted by Get Up! on June 7, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Last week the organization was informed by YouTube of a copyright claim from a website which alleged that it had posted the same video back in 2013. The video was blocked by YouTube in accordance with its copyright policy, forcing the group to appeal the decision. Currently, the videos appears to be back up, suggesting that YouTube has found in favor of Get Up!’s counterclaim, but the incident raises questions for organizations who rely on YouTube as a platform to get their message out.

When NMR reached out to YouTube for comment, we were referred to the company’s copyright strike support page. YouTube does not comment on individual cases of copyright challenges, however a spokesman did tell us: When a copyright holder notifies us of a video that infringes their copyright, we remove the content promptly in accordance with the law. We have a counter-notification process in place if a user believes a content owner has misidentified their video, and we reinstate videos if a user prevails.” It does appear that that’s what happened in this case, as the video has been restored.

A bogus copyright claim can still take a video offline for a significant period of time. YouTube does have a counter claim process which allows channel owners to submit proof that they own the content in question, but that process can be time consuming. In matters of public policy that time can be critical. Should organizations or even brands invest in creating content for YouTube if their campaigns can be easily disrupted by abuse of the copyright claim system?

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