YouTube’s ContentID system, despite costing the company $100 million to date, is notoriously error-prone. Even if an alleged infringement is a false positive, users who upload such content can easily become bogged down trying to show their content is non-infringing.
ContentID was born of lawsuits filed by Viacom and other media companies suing YouTube for allegedly doing too little to protect their copyrights, but no such concentrated interest exists for ordinary YouTubers. While ensuring non-infringing content isn’t taken down unjustly is an impossible task, this current regime enables cyber con artists to extort unsuspecting uploaders. Writes Cory Doctorow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the blog BoingBoing:
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.
Scams like this are nothing new. But a savvy mark can always call, say, the IRS to see if someone claiming to be the IRS is trying to collect back taxes. ContentID, on the other hand, due to its largely automated nature, lets extortionists flag content to be taken down, even if it is non-infringing, with relatively little flesh-and-blood oversight.
Though the system they have designed isn’t perfect, YouTube has been given a herculean task. Expecting a site with over half a million hours of content uploaded per day to comply with a restrictive copyright system at the behest of powerful rightsholders while also protecting non-infringing users at the same time is unreasonable. The prioritization of these entrenched interests benefits both them and those who want to threaten innocent people without going through the trouble of joining the Mafia.