YouTube, Copyright, and the ongoing Claims on our Culture

This post is part of an inadvertent series of posts about my attempts to fight various media companies claims of copyright infringement on my uploaded YouTube clips. You can see part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here for context.

More than a month ago I decided to start fighting every single copyright claim I received on YouTube over the last five or six years using the defense that these videos (taken with my posts) represent educational fair use. My win-loss record is spotty at best, as I noted in these two previous posts, but turns out that over the last couple of weeks I’ve been on a kind of winning streak—a few of which I really didn’t expect to win at all. This just goes to further reinforce the ridiculously veiled logic of how and why these media companies decide what is breaking fair use, and what is not. It appears arbitrary at best, and with no obligation to explain their reasoning we remain at their whim. The deck is stacked in the media companies favor from the beginning, and the way YouTube handles the claims reinforces this guilty until proven innocent logic of copyright claims. Despite that, I have decided to continue chronicling this process in hopes that more people exercise their right to claim fair use because it shouldn’t be illegal to openly critique and analyze the culture industry that creates us in their own image.

A good example of this is the edited argument I created from clips of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). I was trying to juxtapose a series of scenes to reinforce the idea of the zombie in this film as an embodiment of the blind, mindless consumption that is driving the American dream in the 70s and 80s—a scathing critique of US consumerism to the point of graphic cannibalism. The copyright was claimed by the German licensing company Content Lizenz Agentur—who also claimed infringement for my scene from David Cronenberg’s Scanners—-but it turns out they released both. They seem to be a scummy, opportunist outfit that is simply trying to claim copyright and run ads. If you get a claim one one of your videos by them, I recommend you fight it—they seem to be bonafide cockroaches.

Speaking of cockroaches, the folks at Movieclips, who are basically trying to take down competing videos to collect more ad revenue, claimed copyright on one of my favorite clips (all of mine are ad free, mind you) wherein Harry Dean Stanton explains the Repo Code from the 80s cult classic Repo Man (1984). If you get a claim from Movieclips fight those bastards, they have no more right over that clip than you that I can see—correct me if I am wrong MovieClips! Rather than doing anything cultural, educational, or even committing a crime of movie-loving passion, they’re simply collecting ad revenues. How the hell do they stay in business? Why aren’t the media companies by way of Google cracking down on them?

Fox has refused all my fair use claims for the Grapes of Wrath video clips I uploaded, whereas Warner Brothers has released the third and final clip I had uploaded from Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962). So all of my Lolita clips have been cleared whereas none of my Grapes of Wrath clips have—why? The post I wrote about Grapes of Wrath loses all of its power without the three clips I had included, and for me that is part of the crime—it is like a book publisher telling me I can’t quote William Faulkner’s [[Absalom, absalom!] to do textual analysis openly on the web.

And just when I’m ready to write Fox off as the latest evil media empire, they go ahead and release their claim on my “Formative Five” movie analysis. But despite that, you still can’t view that clip on YouTube because Warner Brothers has claimed it for copyright infringement as well, and they won’t release their claim. Isn’t this nuts! My short term work around was to simply upload this particular video to Vimeo, but it is just a matter of time before Vimeo gets its copyright scanners.

The Formative Five: Movie Scenes that Changed My Life from Jim Groom on Vimeo.

All that said, I was thrilled when NBC Universal released its claim on my oldest clip on YouTube pertaining to film analysis, the introduction to the 1946 version of The Killers. That was claimed recently, and I was really afraid my fair use defense was going to be refused, but it wasn’t. So now that clip—which had been blocked world-wide immediately after the claim—is once again available for all to see [yeah!]. And here is the companion post to that clip.

The clip from the Hughes Brothers’ American Pimp was also released by MGM. Winning!

But all-in-all it’s still a spotted record at best, Warner Brothers refused my claim on a short, 30 second Cigarette Ad clip from Blade Runner. And while all the decisions are not in yet, I would say I’ve won close to 40 to 50% of my claims—which is much more than I ever thought I would. What I’m wondering now is if these released claims on my videos change the status of my YouTube account from derelict pirate to cultural critic? 😉 The immediate victory would be that I can rest assured that Google won’t delete my YouTube account any time soon, but that is just the first step. The next, and more important step, is challenging the media establishment on the idea that people of the world cannot legally enter into an ongoing discourse with their content.

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9 Responses to YouTube, Copyright, and the ongoing Claims on our Culture

  1. So… Will UMW/blogs be proving a video hosting service so you don’t have to use third party services that enforce bullshit copyright claims?

    I think I’m going to mess around with

    to see if I can reclaim my video a little more. Not happy with the native embed, but something like this might make YouTube redundant.

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  3. Reverend says:

    UMW is getting a few media servers, but I am not sure the university is ready to take on the risk of campus wide video hosting. However, with the pilot run of a domain of one;s own, it might b easier to go at a smaller, individualized solution like the one you outlined on your blog here: Which is awesome, by the way.

    I really need to push this for myself personally and for UMW students taking ds106 because losing all this stuuff is as horrible as no one seeing it on my blog 🙂

  4. Boone Gorges says:

    Jim, you’re my Hero Of The Month for doing this. Also, I wanted to let you know that the bava is on a killer blogging tear lately. Between the YouTube stuff and ds106 and UMW Blogs recollections, I have been eating it up. Nobody, etc.

  5. Ben says:

    I got nailed with a Copyright notice for the Back to the Future Silent Era remix I did, but I didn’t bother fighting it, as it came directly from Universal Studios, and all it did was put some advertisements up. As annoying as it is, I figured that educational fair use would be a hard sell for that particular video, and I appreciated the fact that they wanted to the video to remain, rather than have it be taken down.

  6. dkernohan says:

    Ben’s point is a good one – with some claims they just want to put ads up on the video (annoying, but at least you can use the clip) and with some they just do a take down. Wish you could know what it was going to be in advance.

    Good stuff.

    NOBODY! (etc)

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