Go ahead and check the date stamp on this post-make sure it isn’t April 1. YouTube, oft-accused of enabling illegal video sharing, will now require copyright scofflaws to watch a video featuring a teal squirrel wearing a pirate hat. The squirrel, named Russell, is the main character in a sort of four-minute “re-education camp” about copyright, produced by YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG). Users who break copyright rules will sometimes be able to work off one of their “strikes” — if they get sufficiently schooled by Russell and then pass a quiz.
Practically since YouTube’s inception, some publishers have complained that it doesn’t do enough to prevent illegal video-sharing, and that criticism doesn’t really seem to be letting up. A post this morning on the official YouTube blog discusses the new copyright education tools the site is unleashing upon errant users. Under YouTube’s longstanding policy, you get three copyright “strikes” before you get booted from YouTube for life; now, users who follow the rules for long periods and go to copyright school will have a chance to redeem themselves.
In the video, a voice-of-god narrator explains to young Russell the stiff penalties associated with copyright infringement. He could get sued for serious money, for example. “You could lose your ‘booty,'” the narrator tells Russell as a pile of treasure disappears from the squirrel-pirate’s home. “Or worse, you could lose your YouTube account!”
Underneath the humor of the video, there’s a serious and somewhat sad truth. On the one hand, the animations and simple language makes the video look like it’s geared towards 9-year-olds. But then it gets to the part describing “fair use,” (see around 2:50), which consists of a short, legalistic essay (read “humorously” fast) that ends with a suggestion that you call a copyright attorney. It reinforces the idea that no one other than a federal court can determine how much use of a piece of content would be legal, and that’s a true failing of copyright in the digital age.
So YouTube copyright school really has nothing but bad news for mash-ups and remix artists. The message is: make only “authorized” works, or you’ll get more strikes. “Oh Russell,” intones the narrator. “Your re-use of Lumpy’s content is clever–but did you get permission for it?”
The video ends with Russell making his own original content, which consists of juggling piranhas while getting shot out of a cannon.
» YouTube’s new Copyright Center includes tools for users, content owners, and “copyright education”