‘YouTube Copyright School’ – Remixed and Mixed Up

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues
ETCJ Associate Administrator

In his lecture, “The Architecture of Access to Scientific Knowledge: Just How Badly We Have Messed This Up” (at CERN, Geneva, CH. April 18, 2011), Lawrence Lessig discussed YouTube’s new copyright school. (See 35:42 – 39:46 in the subtitled and transcribed video of his lecture.) The YouTube Copyright School video he showed and commented was uploaded by YouTube on March 24, 2011, then integrated into what looks like an  interactive tutorial, also entitled YouTube Copyright School, with a quiz on the side.

More information about this “school” was given on the YouTube Official Blog in “YouTube Copyright Education (Remixed)” (April 14, 2011):

If we receive a copyright notification for one of your videos, you’ll now be required to attend YouTube Copyright School, which involves watching a copyright tutorial and passing a quiz to show that you’ve paid attention and understood the content before uploading more content to YouTube.

YouTube has always had a policy to suspend users who have received three uncontested copyright notifications. This policy serves as a strong deterrent to copyright offenders. However, we’ve found that in some cases, a one-size-fits-all suspension rule doesn’t always lead to the right result. Consider, for example, a long-time YouTube user who received two copyright notifications four years ago but who’s uploaded thousands of legitimate videos since then without a further copyright notification. Until now, the four-year-old notifications would have stayed with the user forever despite a solid track record of good behavior, creating the risk that one new notification – possibly even a fraudulent notification – would result in the suspension of the account. We don’t think that’s reasonable. So, today we’ll begin removing copyright strikes from user’s accounts in certain limited circumstances, contingent upon the successful completion of YouTube Copyright School, as well as a solid demonstrated record of good behavior over time. Expiration of strikes is not guaranteed, and as always, YouTube may terminate an account at any time for violating our Terms of Service.

YouTube’s three strikes and you’re out policy, described above, is news to me. I have already received one  notification for use of copyrighted material, and I don’t know if I contested it on the ground of “fair use.” I wrote that I don’t understand fair use as it does not exist in Swiss copyright law, but that my goal was educational. (See “Easy Captioning for UNESCO’s World Heritage Videos on YouTube.”)

Copyright School video

But let’s first watch this Copyright School video:

The video has been viewed 270,349 times, with 1,168 likes and 6,050 dislikes as I write this.

It is subtitled (by humans)  in  43 languages, which is nice. It would be even nicer if YouTube had used this pedagogical occasion to  finally make its player accessible to the blind, who have been requesting it for a long time, as the 91 messages concerning YouTube in Google’s accessible group show.

Moreover, the initial text images are not rendered in the subtitles: the one that credits Happy Tree Friends only shows in full for less than 2 seconds; some people are likely to miss it (I did, at first).

Last but not least, the description of the video says: “Russell learns some valuable lessons about copyright.” Which lessons is not completely clear, though.

Lessig’s comment

When Lawrence Lessig commented on  this video in his lecture at CERN, he chose to concentrate on its verbal message and on the first two parts concerning copyright in general and remix:

Lessig: Now, is [remix] legal?

Well, YouTube has just stepped into this battle, of whether it’s legal. They’ve launched this Copyright School.  So I will give you a little bit of their copyright school.

[video (…)]
Everybody has really been looking forward to the new video from Lumpy and the Lumpettes. Even Lumpy.
Russell’s a huge fan. He can’t wait to tell all his friends about it. Hey, Russell, you didn’t create that video!
You just copied someone else’s content.

Lessig: OK, this first part is pretty standard, talking about copying people’s content, uploading it, and even copying a live performance and uploading it. And that’s fair, that’s true, that’s accurate in its statement of what copyright law is, and what I think copyright law should be.
But I want to focus on their talk about remix, which might be confusing to you, and if you do, you should buy multiple copies of my book, “Remix” to understand what it’s about. But here’s YouTube’s version of the story of remix

[YouTube video cont.] Oh, Russell! Your reuse of the Lumpy’s content is clever,but did you get permission for it?
Mashups or remixes of content may also require permission from the original copyright owner, depending on whether or not the use is a fair use. In the United States [text shown onscreen is read very fast]…you should consult a qualified copyright attorney.

Lessig: OK. “Consult a qualified copyright attorney”? These are 15-year olds. You’re trying to teach 15-year olds how to obey the law, and what you do is you give them this thing called fair use, and you read it so fast nobody can understand it.
You believe you’ve actually explained something sensible?
This is crazy talk. Of course we train lawyers to understand it, and not think it’s crazy talk, but non lawyers should recognize it’s crazy talk.
It’s an absurd system here. And of course, a sensible system would say: “Then it should be plainly legal for Russell to make a remix, a non commercial consumer making a remix of content that he sees out there, even if it’s not legal for YouTube to distribute it without paying some sort of royalty to copyright owners whose work has been remixed.”
even YouTube, now, the company most responsible for this revival of this remix culture, even YouTube, now, is criminalizing the remixer.

(From the transcript in the subtitled version of Lessig’s lecture at CERN)

What “valuable lessons about copyright”?

Does this Copyright School video really criminalize the remixer, though? In the last part (from 3:47), when Russell finally does things “right” by singing his own song in the mouth of a cannon while juggling with piranhas, the off voice congratulates him:

That’s more like it! By singing an original song, you’re creating your own content. When you make an original video, you’re the owner of your own copyright, and… you have the right to post it to YouTube. Original content is what makes YouTube interesting. Start creating your own, and who knows? Your video could explode!

However, the word “explode!” is followed by Russell getting bitten by one of the piranhas and blasted to the bottom of the sea, together with his ship.

So  the “valuable lessons about copyright” that Russell is meant to learn, according to the video description, actually seem to be:

  • Copyright law is incomprehensible, except for lawyers.
  • Even if you manage to fully comply with it and are successful, you’ll get blasted to kingdom come by the pirate hunters.

Or as a 17th century French lawyer put it : “The tougher guy’s argument always wins,” no matter how devious. In this video, Google appears like a mere executor of the tougher guy.

Why Russell?

The choice of Russell – visually impaired, with several other disabilities – as the pirate seems to identify the content industry as the tough guy. In fact, the content industry has often fought people with disabilities in the past: it has relentlessly opposed a globalization of copyright restrictions in their favor at WIPO. (See James Love’s “Right to Read for Persons with Reading Disabilities,” Keionline, August 12, 2009.) Had the massive lobbying by IFPI.ch and AudioVision Schweiz for the removal of par. 4 of art. 39a of the Swiss copyright law been successful, circumventing DRM to make copies accessible for people with disabilities would have become “piracy.” (See “Background” in “IFPI, P2P and an Article that Disappeared” – fortunately, that’s one instance where the tougher guy’s argument did NOT win.) The US Authors’ Guild criminalized the use of screen content access technology needed by the blind, visually impaired, and print-disabled people, claiming that it creates derivative works that are covered by a separate copyright. (See “Background” in “e-Book Readers: Attempting to Bugger the Blind Is Bad for Business.”)

Warning about the use of YouTube’s Copyright School in education

Teachers who might be tempted to use YouTube’s Copyright School video with minor students, in spite of its harping against someone with disabilities, should beware that this might lead some of them to look up other authentic Happy Tree Friends videos. These authentic videos do not discriminate against people with disabilities, but rather include them in their black humor, which is quite violently gory. MondoMedia, their producer, warns in its channel: they are “Not for Small Children or Big Babies.”

One Response

  1. merci afin de cette nouvelle, un article bien complet ainsi super.

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