YouTube's content ID system has long been maligned by the music industry for its multifaceted failings. The minimal staffing YouTube provides regarding copyright claims has left the system vulnerable to misuse and, most recently, outright extortion.
Guest post by Timothy Geigner of Techdirt
By now, we should all be aware that YouTube's ContentID system is not great. What was supposed to be an efficient way for content owners to report when their content is being used without permission instead represents essentially the worst from all worlds. It's bad from a operating technology perspective, since the system manages to flag non-infringing content as infringing content on the regular. And it's bad from a operating human standpoint, since YouTube puts so little emphasis on staffing around copyright claims that the appeals and review processes are a joke. The result of all this is a system that is wide open for both mistaken collateral damage and outright abuse. That abuse typically takes the form of people who either don't understand how copyright works, or who are interested in merely trolling others.
Or, as it apparently turns out, the system is a lovely avenue for pure extortion, according to recent reports.
A Youtuber called ObbyRaidz, who makes videos about Minecraft, has found himself having received two copyright "strikes" on Youtube from a blackmailer calling themselves VengefulFlame, who has demanded "$150 PayPal or $75 btc (Bitcoin)" or equivalent "goods/services" to have the strikes removed. If ObbyRaidz doesn't comply, VengefulFlame could send one more complaint to Youtube and have ObbyRaidz's account -- and all the videos he's created -- permanently deleted.
ObbyRaidz says he's been unable to get any help from Youtube, despite repeated complaints and entreaties.
This isn't some one-off instance, either. It turns out that this sort of extortion is a somewhat regular occurrence. And even that shouldn't really matter, because it's plain as can be that a system that even allows for the possibility of this kind of abuse is a system that is too broken to be allowed to continue. If anything, the demonstration of a flaw of this magnitude should result in the immediate reformation of YouTube's policies. It's permanent deletion policies, at the very least, should be top of the list to reform as its users are currently in danger of losing access to the platform that is choosing not to support them.
And we should keep this in mind given what's going on in the EU, where the government there appears to want to roll out this avenue for abuse to everyone, for everything, all the time.
The extortion attempt is a timely reminder of what's at stake in the fight over the EU's Copyright Directive, which mandates a much broader version of ContentID, but for every service and every type of copyrighted work, from tweets to Minecraft skins. Under the proposal, anyone could add anything to the databases of blocked content, and get anyone else's work censored; while this could be used simply to suppress information that a fraudster doesn't like (say, reports of political corruption or complaints about a scammy business), they could also be used as fuel for extortion.
It's going to be a fucking mess, mostly because the over-sized government is seeking to kneel before the content industries by serving them a half-baked plan to create some copyright database that simply is going to be abused, full stop. The lesson of ContentID is in what shouldn't be done, not what should. And certainly not what should be done on the scale of a continent.