YouTube Silences, Then Restores Lessig Presentation

YouTube briefly blocked the audio track of a presentation given by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig yesterday, informing users that the clip contained audio material not authorized by a rights holder.  The video in question was a talk about Fair Use Lessig had given late last week as part of a Wireside Chat organized by the Open Video Alliance.

Lessig immediately filed a counter-notice with YouTube, and the audio was restored earlier today. Open Video Alliance General Coordinator Ben Moskowitz called the incident “cosmic irony,” adding that problems like these wouldn’t be that much of an issue if the online video world wasn’t as centralized as it currently is.

Lessig was invited by the Open Video Alliance to talk about Fair Use and the politics of online video, and his talk got streamed in real time to some 40 public screenings across the U.S.. Part of Lessig’s talk dealt with examples for what Lessig has been calling the remix culture: YouTube users mashing up songs and videos to provide commentary and become part of Internet memes.

This practice is protected by Fair Use exemptions to U.S. copyright, but Lessig has pointed out that these rights are under attack – and YouTube involuntarily assisted him in making his point by taking down the audio section of the talk. The take-down was the work of YouTube Content ID system, a technology that scans videos for songs submitted by rights holders. Content ID currently contains over a million reference files, and one of those IDs related to a song owned by Warner Music that was used for a few seconds in Lessig’s video. Warner had instructed to take down any content with that song, and the site automatically disabled the audio of his talk as a result.

Moskowitz said that YouTube’s filters not detecting Fair Use in a talk about Fair Use is a great example of what’s wrong with online video. “Having a monolithic platform like YouTube at the center of the video web is like putting all one’s eggs in a basket”, he told me via email, adding that open source technologies and open networks could help to free video video makers from such constraints.

What’s interesting about the incident is that Warner didn’t even have to opt for taking down videos using its music in the first place. Rights holders can elect to monetize any video that contains their music through advertising, and we’ve been told by Google in the past that the majority of its Content ID partners actually opt for ads as supposed to take-downs. One such example is currently on display as part of the very video that triggered the take-down. Lessig also quoted a video that made use of a Diana Ross song, and Universal Music Group elected to monetize this through a link to iTunes and Amazon.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: Will Automated Rights Management Take Down Fair Use? (subscription required)