Here is another movie-related story (or a continuation of the same story) about YouTube rights abuses, with implications for all electronic forms of physical media (including e-books).

In a follow-up to yesterday’s story about Universal’s allegedly fraudulent takedown of a Megaupload promotional video, Torrentfreak reports Megaupload has instructed its legal team to file suit against Universal over the matter. (One of my friends noted that, if Universal really did do what Megaupload accuses, it should also be liable for criminal charges of perjury.) It will be interesting to see what happens.

Meanwhile, Cory Doctorow’s latest column in the Guardian discusses a similar though unrelated abuse of YouTube DMCA takedown procedures. Google offers rights holders a service called ContentID, which allows them to claim videos as theirs and then request that the videos be removed. (This is apparently what happened to Megaupload’s video.) However, instead of removing them, the companies can instead choose to “monetize” them—having YouTube play ads with them and then give the rights-holder the revenue for the ads.

Doctorow notes that a project called FedFlix has been established to pay the fees associated with retrieving copies of public-domain videos from the Federal Government (by law, any government-produced media is automatically in the public domain, but the government can still charge fees for the media on which it is issued) and posting them to YouTube, the Internet Archive, and other video sites so the public can see them without paying fees.

However, Doctorow notes, these videos are being targeted by a number of media companies with hundreds of infringement claims. The claims could endanger Fedflix’s YouTube account, and what’s more the way ContentID is set up means that Fedflix doesn’t have any way to contest them. The dispute resolution procedure requires a “rights-holder” to send YouTube a written permission notice—but in the case of these videos, there is no rights-holder; they’re in the public domain.

[Fedflix founder Carl] Malamud’s report documents these troubles in Kafkaesque detail. It’s frustrating reading. The American public paid to produce these videos, and they own them, lock, stock and barrel. Multinational companies – the same ones who cry poverty and demand far-reaching laws like the Stop Online Piracy Act – have laid title to them, "homesteading the public domain", and they are abusing Google’s copyright peace offering to steal from the public.

This puts me in mind of the way that some publishers have previously taken public-domain books, added a new introduction or foreword, and then claimed copyright to the whole book. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine that what some companies will do for movies, others might do for electronic renditions of printed matter. The same copyrights apply to all of it. We should all be seriously scrutinizing proposed laws like SOPA that have the potential for even worse abuses.


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