Tuesday, December 30, 2008

YouTube Removing Israeli Military Videos?

Commentary reports that YouTube has removed certain videos posted by the Israel Defense Forces to the channel the IDF set up to get its message out during the Gaza war:
The site hosted about a dozen videos showing things like Israeli humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza and airstrikes that prevented terrorists from firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

This was apparently too much for YouTube, which moments ago removed several videos from the IDF’s channel, including the most-watched video, which showed a group of Hamas goons being blown up in an air strike as they loaded Katyusha missiles onto a truck. The point of such footage, as if it needed to be said, is not to revel in violence — it is to show the legitimacy of Israeli self-defense.

I can't see the removed videos, so I don't know what led to their removal. One likely explanation is that YouTube felt they violated its "Community Guidelines," which provide:

Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone being physically hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don't post it.

Commentary suggests that YouTube is applying a "double-standard" against Israel; I'm reluctant to credit any such charge without a lot more evidence. But whatever the reason for the videos' removal, this episode highlights the power that YouTube has to control worldwide political debate, as this very interesting article in the New York Times Magazine explained:

With control of 63 percent of the world’s Internet searches, as well as ownership of YouTube, Google has enormous influence over who can find an audience on the Web around the world. As an acknowledgment of its power, Google has given [Deputy General Counsel] Nicole Wong a central role in the company’s decision-making process about what controversial user-generated content goes down or stays up on YouTube and other applications owned by Google, including Blogger, the blog site; Picasa, the photo-sharing site; and Orkut, the social networking site. Wong and her colleagues also oversee Google’s search engine: they decide what controversial material does and doesn’t appear on the local search engines that Google maintains in many countries in the world, as well as on Google.com. As a result, Wong and her colleagues arguably have more influence over the contours of online expression than anyone else on the planet.

As I learned while working as an attorney on the McCain campaign, the best way to get a video you don't like removed from YouTube is to claim that it infringes on your copyright -- even if it doesn't. Even if the claim is totally bogus, YouTube will remove the video almost immediately. And even if the person who posted the video submits a counternotice under the DMCA, the video will stay down 10-14 business days. After having several of the campaign's YouTube videos (see here and here and here) removed due to copyright claims we believed were meritless, we wrote YouTube asking them to review campaign videos prior to removal, and refuse to remove the non-infringing ones. YouTube, though sympathetic with our arguments on fair use, politely declined.

So if Hamas really wanted to mess with the IDF's PR efforts, why doesn't it just submit a bunch of DMCA takedown notices on the IDF's YouTube videos? Somehow I doubt that people willing to blow up both themselves and innocents in buses and restaurants will be deterred by the threat of lawsuits under 17 USC sec. 512(f).

UPDATE: according to AFP, the removed videos have been restored:

The IDF spokesman's office said that some of the videos it had posted to the channel had been removed by YouTube but were later reinstated.

"We were saddened earlier today that YouTube took down some of our exclusive footage showing the IDF's operational success in operation Cast Lead against Hamas extremists in the Gaza Strip," the IDF spokesman's office said.

"Fortunately, due to blogger and viewer support, YouTube has returned some of the footage they removed," it added.

YouTube, as a matter of policy, does not comment on individual videos.

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