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YouTube wants you to tell on publishers without closed captions

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YouTube (s GOOG) reached out to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community with an interesting proposition a few days ago: The site is asking users to let them know about publishers whose videos don’t have any subtitles, but should. The initiative comes in response to a FCC rule that came into effect earlier this month, mandating that all content that previously aired on TV has to have captions online.

Users who are so inclined can use a special web form to notify YouTube about videos without captions. The site will then notify the publisher about the complaint, and forward any answer to the user. YouTube does warn users that the abuse of the form can result in the termination of their account, and a spokesperson wasn’t able to tell me whether complaints will actually lead to any tangible action against non-complying publishers.

It’s the law

This kind of procedure is YouTube’s response to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, which was signed into law by President Obama in October of 2010, as well as some mandates put in place by the FCC earlier this year. Both force video sites to display captions for any video content that has previously aired on TV, as long as it hasn’t been substantially edited for online use. In other words: A whole segment of the evening news has to have subtitles, a online-only highlights reel doesn’t.

YouTube isn’t the only one scrambling to make sure that the content it hosts is compliant with the new rules. Amazon started adding closed captions to some of its Instant streaming content this week, and both Hulu and Netflix (s NFLX) have been working for a while on adding captions to the videos they’re hosting.

In dealing with these issues, the companies find themselves often in a weird bind: The provisions that came into effect last week treat them as distributors, and put the burden on programmers to actually provide them with captions in the first place. However, some of that content simply doesn’t come with captions. Other videos aren’t covered by the same rules because they never aired on TV, or didn’t air in the U.S – but viewers obviously expect a consistent experience.

Most video sites are working on captions

That’s why most of the major players have invested significant resources into their own captioning efforts. YouTube added automatic captioning to its videos three years ago, and has since made it easier for publishers to add captions to their clips.

Netflix recently started to work with the captioning provider Amara to experiment with a crowd-sourced approach that would allow the company to add more captions to its videos more quickly. And Hulu has a number of its employees working on adding captions to its videos and improve existing captions.

Of course, these efforts aren’t entirely altruistic. YouTube, Hulu, Amazon (s AMZN) and Netflix have to comply with the FCC’s mandate, and they’ve been under pressure from disability advocates to go even further. The National Association of the Deaf sued Netflix for not providing captions for part of its catalog last year, and sites like have faced legal action over the issue as well.

8 Responses to “YouTube wants you to tell on publishers without closed captions”

  1. The new FCC rules on captioning has shortcomings that is upsetting a lot of deaf people. Everyone is trying to piece together why this happened. I will give you two pieces of the puzzle that created the disappointing result on captioning that we need so badly. Firstly, we have a deaf person who is the head of the FCC Disability Rights Office. That deaf person is the famous Greg Hlibok. Greg Hlibok was one of the deaf militant leaders who forced Gallaudet University to accept a deaf president. Remember the “Deaf President Now!” protesting in March 1988? And with him being one of those leaders of the traditional capital “D” deaf militants who despised the use of English like in captioning as a communication method for the deaf, one doesnt have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the direction of the FCC Disability Rights Office is heading under Hlibok’s leadership. Secondly as an exacerbation, a high profile captioning advocate was recently found to have orchestrated a secret cyberbullying campaign against a deaf advocate that lasted six years. Doing so, she breached public trust and casted a blackeye on all captioning advocates. Look at and this captioning advocate only deceived the hearing impaired while others could see through her mask and thus contributed to this disappointment. NOW, I gave you two pieces of the puzzle. You can find the rest when you do your own research.

  2. @Sandeep: the Wikipedia model you suggest is precisely the one offered by Amara: an Amara captioning/subtitling page is created by streaming the original video, which can be hosted on YouTube or on other video platforms. When the captions/subtitles are completed, they can be downloaded and added to the original video, if its platform supports closed captions. In the case of YouTube-hosted videos, Amara captions can also, in some cases, be automatically added to the original (but I’m not sure how that works).

    @ san diego fiber installer: YouTube already has procedures for flagging illegal content or that violates their TOU (porn, violence etc).
    Re copyright, only the right holders can complain about violations of their own copyright, but YouTube facilitates the identification of possible violations via its audio and video recognition software, which notifies both the right holder and the uploader of a match with copyrighted content. In case of false positives, the uploaders can contest this, explaining why they are entitled to use this content. I’ve done that successfully e.g. for a traditional folk song performed by amateurs, where the software had found a match with a copyrighted professional performance. More info in – or in , the original video, if you prefer to read the transcript generated by the captions rather than watch the video.

  3. Good article – and so much more work to do! Join citizen advocates to ensure all Internet accessible via quality captioning for all – add your voice, we need you! Find http:://ccacaptioning, jnd let’s move forward. When the law was first envisioned, the full importance, even then,, of online communications not fully understood by some. Time to voice good complaints, and add energy for full access for mega-millions.