YouTuber Gets Video Taken Down Over Public Domain Material

It’s nothing new for those who follow copyright trolling. Public domain material isn’t enough to protect you from copyright complaints.

If you think that sheet music from the public domain will protect you from copyright trolls, think again. A YouTuber has had a video taken down after they took sheet music from the public domain and fed it through a MIDI synthesizer. The resulting sound was then placed on a video the YouTuber shot. What followed was a takedown on YouTube for copyright infringement.

For those who follow copyright trolling and YouTube’s copyright system, this is nothing new. Perfectly legal video’s have been taken down for years now. In 2012, Dan Bull had his video removed for criticizing a rapper. As everyone knows, this sort of activity is commonly referred to as censorship by copyright. In response to the takedown, Bull posted another video explaining what happened:

Who could forget the Church of Scientology issuing 4,000 DMCA takedown notices to silence criticism back in 2008?

The point is, copyright have been used as an effective censorship tool on YouTube for a very long time now. Of course, censorship isn’t the only reason video’s get censored. In some cases, videos are taken down to try and steal ad revenue from legitimate creators as well. That’s what is being claimed in the latest case with Chris Knight. From BoingBoing:

A company called “Adrev” filed an automated claim against Knight’s video, through which they were able to force the video to have ads whose revenues were diverted to Adrev’s coffers.

There are plenty of weird things about Adrev’s act of copyfraud. First, they only claimed copyright on a three-minute chunk of the music (the entire composition is repeated 60 times in the video). Knight hypothesizes that this is a tactic that lets them file a new claim against him if he disputes this one.

Knight’s well-versed on the obscure subject of Youtube copyright claims, so he was willing to dispute this one, despite Youtube’s dire warning that if he did so and was found to have infringed copyright, he would face a strike against his account, which could lead to its permanent deletion.

However, no such penalties have accrued to Adrev, who have been claiming copyright over public domain renditions of Flight of the Bumblebee since at least 2017, with no penalties from Youtube.

In another display of bias against the creators that made Youtube what it is, when a claim is filed it goes into effect immediately; but they then have thirty days to respond to your dispute. That’s thirty days where a creator is in limbo stressing about the fate of their monetization. I wonder how many claims are filed by automated systems and then left hanging for thirty days after they are disputed?

This is what YouTube has become: A platform where content creators upload videos and copyright trolls can file an illegitimate automated claim and steal any potential revenue, and where the threat of a lost account will deter people from disputing those claims.

With respect to American copyright laws – especially with the DMCA and the resulting policies set by companies, those filing the claim always have all the power. If that power is abused, there is little to no recourse for the victims of this type of fraud. The most we are aware of is that there is a provision in the law saying that copyright claims should be legitimately claimed. Unfortunately, those sections are almost never enforced, leaving fraudsters to bilk creators out of ad revenue or use it as a way of silencing criticism.

We are aware of only one case where a troll got to see repercussion’s of their actions. That was back in September when YouTube sued a copyright troll. In a nutshell, the troll was demanding ransom payments from YouTubers to have a copyright strike lifted over content the troll never owned. Those who didn’t comply with the ransom, the troll would then abuse the copyright system to get an address and SWAT the victim as well in an effort to extort money out of victims. Critics at the time pointed out that these are the extremes trolls can go before they are stopped.

As for how copyright works, creators generally have a limited period of time that they can claim copyright over a work. In the US, that term is the life of the creator plus 70 years. Critics partly blame Disney for why the term is so absurdly long. After that limited (satirically long) period expires, that work then falls into the public domain. In that case, there is no rights left and anyone can use or re-use that work. In this case, the sheet music for Flight of the Bumblebee is in the public domain. So, feeding the sheet music into a MIDI synthesizer is perfectly legal. The results of those sounds could actually be claimed by copyright by the video creator even.

As such, with the facts before us, as far as we can tell, the video is perfectly legal and shouldn’t have been taken down in the first place. Ad revenue, consequently, shouldn’t have been diverted as well.

So, this is just the latest example of how the copyright system is so often abused on YouTube. With a number of independent creators already feeling that YouTube is shafting them in favour of big corporate entertainment interests, this latest case likely will not help YouTube on the public relations front. Chances are very good that this will just be another entry into the already long list of creators becoming victims of copyright fraud.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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