One of the largest French political parties, the National Rally (former National Front), had its video channel taken down by YouTube’s algorithms for alleged copyright violations. Prior to this incident, the National Rally party had pledged support for Article 13 of the proposed copyright directive reform, on which an EU Parliament committee will vote this Wednesday. Article 13 mandates that all online platforms implement similar copyright filters.
Additionally, YouTube has also blocked MIT’s OpenCourseWare channel, as well as the channel of the nonprofit Blender Foundation.
National Rally’s Channel Is Taken Down
On June 14, YouTube’s automatic copyright filter took down National Rally’s YouTube channel, “TVLibertés,” for “copyright infringement.” Marine Le Pen, the party’s leader, called the takedown “arbitrary, political, and unilateral” in an interview with the French Europe1. He added that:
“This measure is completely false; we can easily assert a right of quotation [to illustrate why the material was well within the law to broadcast]."
Le Pen makes a good, but ultimately irrelevant, point. The issue with automatic takedown systems for copyrighted content is that the filter doesn’t and can’t tell when the copyrighted content was used in a “lawful manner.” If it finds a digital signature that it recognizes as being copyrighted content, then it automatically takes that content down.
YouTube’s “ContentID” system has long been criticized as going above and beyond what most copyright laws require and for not respecting people’s fair use rights. Fair use laws basically give some exceptions for using copyrighted material such as for educational or scientific purposes, or when the new work is transformative and can't be mistaken for the original.
However, YouTube’s ContentID, which is considered to be among the most advanced copyrighted content filters, doesn’t take those exceptions into account, and chances are that neither will the “upload filters” that will be mandated by the new EU copyright reform.
MIT, Blender Foundation Channels Taken Down
Over the past several days, other YouTube channels have been taken down by YouTube’s algorithms, despite the fact that these channels appear to be legal at first glance. The MIT OpenCourseWare team said that they’re are trying to get to the bottom of this issue and told their followers on Twitter to “stand by.”
The Blender Foundation, which develops the open source 3D content creation tool “Blender,” also had its videos blocked. Ton Roosendaal, Chairman of the Blender Foundation, said he contacted YouTube about this on Saturday but hasn’t gotten a proper response yet.
Other verified YouTube accounts, such as India’s Press Information Bureau, soccer club Sparta Praha, and England Rugby were also blocked. YouTube hasn’t yet made a statement about what could be causing these seemingly erroneous takedowns. The channels show the message that usually appears only when the content has been restricted to certain countries, except it's now appearing for everyone.
New EU Copyright Directive
The new EU copyright directive has been criticized by activists and politicians alike over two articles. Article 11 proposes that websites pay a “link tax” when they link to publishers’ news stores. Article 13, which mandates that all online platforms come with an “upload filter” that filter copyrighted content as soon as people attempt to put it online.
Article 13, in particular, could cause many wrongful takedowns of legal content, especially considering that most websites will not have access to the same amount of investment and human resources as YouTube’s imperfect ContentID system did.
As Le Pen said, such systems could make “arbitrary” decisions to take down political content on a daily basis, and most people likely wouldn’t even be aware of it unless each event would be turned into a media scandal. Despite this potential abuse or even just erroneous takedowns, the French National Rally party had already decided that it’s going to vote for the EU copyright directive and Article 13 on Wednesday, June 20.
If you're an EU citizen and would like to make your voice heard about this issue, Mozilla and and other groups have published tools to make it easy to contact your Members of the European Parliament ahead of the June 20 vote.