Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What really happened with the 'RickRoll' video: likely NOT the subject of a DMCA notice

The Web is erupting in predictable conniptions over news that the original "RickRoll" video has been removed from YouTube. And running through a lot of the commentary is the assumption that the video was removed because one of the owners of the copyright in the song (either the music publisher or record label) sent a DMCA notice to YouTube, claiming that the video is infringing. But while I don't know exactly what happened, I'm almost certain that the removal of the video was not because of a DMCA notice on this particular video.

Note that the message that appears in place of the RickRoll video is "This video has been removed due to a terms of use violation":

By contrast, when a copyright owner sends a DMCA notice on a particular video, YouTube displays a message that says, "This video is no longer available because of a copyright claim by [the copyright owner]." Here's an example:

The removal of a video due to a terms of use violation can result from a variety of issues: pornography, excessive violence, drug use, etc. I doubt those account for what happened here. Rather, YouTube also uses the "This video has been removed due to a terms of use violation" when it terminates a user's account, a step that results in removal of all of the user's videos, including those that have never themselves been the subject of a complaint. A common reason for suspension of a user's account is having been the subject of three DMCA notices that were not successfully contested. See YouTube Terms of Service Paragraph 7; see also pages 17-18 of this brief (quoting a declaration from YouTube GC Zahava Levine stating "[i]f YouTube receives more than two takedown notices for content uploaded by a particular user, or the user has her content removed from the service more than two times, then YouTube will terminate the user's account."); 17 USC § 512(i) (hosts must "terminat[e] in appropriate circumstances...repeat infringers" in order to benefit from the safe harbor from copyright claims). So if the user who posted the RickRoll video got three DMCA notices on other videos (i.e., not the RickRoll video), his or her RickRoll video would be removed to due a terms of use violation -- even if the copyright owners were perfectly happy to have it on YouTube.

Again, I can't say for sure whether that's what happened here -- it's impossible to see who the account holder actually is, or what other videos he or she had posted to this account. But I'm pretty confident that this incident was not the result of someone at Rick Astley's label or the song's publisher suddenly deciding to rid the world of the RickRoll.

Update: YouTube says it was all a mistake. From a statement it gave to Mashable:
With 20 hours of video uploaded every minute to YouTube, we count on our community members to know our Community Guidelines and to flag content they believe violates them. We review all flagged content quickly, and if we find that a video does violate the guidelines, we remove it, on average in under an hour. We also have a team that is dedicated to identifying and removing spam from YouTube. Occasionally, an account flagged by users or identified by our spam team is mistakenly taken down. When this is brought to our attention, we move quickly to take appropriate action, including restoring videos that had been mistakenly removed and channels that have been mistakenly suspended.

1 comment:

  1. Ben, thanks for digging into this, I wasn't aware of the message that pops up when an account is terminated.


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.