Wildly successful teen pop star, Justin Bieber, recently had every single one of his videos pulled from YouTube and, no, it was not due to jealousy over his famous shaggy little hairdo. Rather, a YouTube user going by the screen name “iLCreations” successfully removed all the videos by alleging copyright infringement.
There is no indication that iLCreations had any rights to the videos or a valid claim under copyright law. Nonetheless, iLCreations invoked YouTube’s content removal policy by falsely claiming to own Bieber’s music videos.
YouTube and similar companies all have content removal policies to insulate themselves from liability for infringement when a user uploads infringing content to the site. The removal policies are a product of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) which, among other things, shields Internet service providers from copyright infringement liability for simply transmitting information over the Internet.
Per the DMCA, if unauthorized copyrighted material is made available on a network, the copyright holder may issue a takedown notice to the service provider. The service provider must then promptly remove or block the infringing material and inform the person responsible. As long as the service provider removes the content, the provider does not incur liability. However, if the provider does not respond to a claim of infringement, then liability may follow.
The net result is that Internet service providers remove content immediately upon receiving a notice and then inform the alleged infringer that the content has been removed due to an allegation of infringement. These policies protect copyright owners because providers will remove infringing content quickly minus the hurdle of a drawn out legal proceeding.
Many companies use DMCA takedown notices to protect their rights in movies, television shows, songs, and music videos. It allows copyright owners to prevent the unauthorized release of content over the Internet, which would otherwise hinder their ability to make a profit on the work they created.
Movies are especially vulnerable to illegal releases (especially when they are leaked prior to their release date) because most consumers view a film only once. So, as soon as a movie is leaked, the copyright owner loses profits he otherwise would have received from movie theater ticket sales or DVD purchases. High profile examples of leaked movies include Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Iron Man, Sex and the City, Hulk, and The Simpsons Movie.
In this lawyer’s opinion, the DMCA takedown notice is a good thing. It provides an effective means to have infringing content removed quickly and to minimize harm to copyright owners. Although this results in a “remove first, ask questions later” approach by service providers, the protections that the takedown notice provides outweigh the inconvenience of temporary removal of authorized content. As far as Bieber is concerned, iLCreations misused the DMCA provisions by claiming rights he or she did not have in order to take down all of the Bieb’s music videos. However, those consumed with Bieber Fever need not worry. At last check, his videos are all back up, including my personal favorite “Baby.”