Pro: YouTube copyright policy face off

Makoto Hunter, Contributing Reporter

The enforcement of copyrights in the interest of protecting intellectual property is of particular interest to me. I would certainly hate for myself or for any of my writings to be subject to intellectual piracy in the future. As a result, I strongly sympathize with the concerns of those copyright holders who fear that YouTube users are violating their copyrights and making their material available to would-be consumers for free. I have been guilty of this, having watched many playthroughs of video games that I never end up purchasing, so I definitely understand why YouTube is now employing such a stringent copyright policy.

Critics including my peers at school and Internet publishers (e.g. Sarah Yoshi of Berds and Nerds) claim that it is far too harsh; it is possible for videos identified as being in violation of copyright to be taken down without the owner’s knowledge or consent, and there are claims that entire channels have been shut down over this. As many an individual on YouTube now use the site as a platform for their livelihood or at least a portion of their income (notable examples include Matthew Patrick of Game Theory and Adriana Figueroa, channel named adrisaurus), it is natural that there are objections to this. A channel that is shut down could potentially spell the end of someone’s career.

However, I believe that this debate should not be about the hypothetical impacts of YouTube’s policy. People complain about it, and people have an inalienable right to complain about things. By the same token, however, I would argue that YouTube has every right to execute the policy that it uses.

YouTube is a service that provides creators with a medium in which to access their audience. Many, many people use YouTube, from laypersons to professionals to corporate conglomerates, and YouTube as a service seeks to satisfy and serve all their consumers. Dissatisfied consumers do not come back, and especially dissatisfied consumers sue, neither of which are desirable outcomes for YouTube. As a result YouTube, like any profit-making enterprise, makes sure to cover its back so that it can pacify complaints quickly.

Checking YouTube’s Terms of Services reveals that “YouTube reserves the right to decide whether Content violates these Terms of Service” (YouTube Terms of Service). A video that violates the Terms of Service can be taken down. The document goes on to say that they reserve the right to do so for reasons other than copyright infringement “such as, but not limited to, pornography, obscenity, or excessive length” (YouTube Terms of Service).

Pay close attention to the phrase “not limited to.” What exactly does that mean? Frankly, it means exactly what it says: “not limited.” YouTube is not limited in how it decides content uploaded to the site violates the Terms of Services. In its own Terms and Services, YouTube gives itself unlimited power over whether your content stays there or not, and every time you use YouTube you are agreeing to that.

You can complain about YouTube’s policy all you like, but you do not have a lot of ground to stand on when you have agreed to it yourself.

But maybe you do not think the debate should be about whether or not YouTube can enforce this policy, but whether or not they ought to enforce this policy. A fair point, but still insufficiently defensible.

There is a very clear and pressing reason for copyright holders to want YouTube to enforce their copyrights using the current policy, and that reason also justifies YouTube’s actions. Simply put, poorly defended copyrights can become subject to more copyright infringement.

Make no mistake: not defending your copyright does not mean you lose it (BYU Copyright Licensing Office). Copyrights are not like trademarks – if you do not defend it, you still have it. Even so, the article written by the BYU Copyright Licensing Office goes on to add that “if you do not actively defend your copyright, there may be broader unauthorized uses than you would like. It is a good idea to pursue enforcement actions as soon as you discover misuse of your copyright protected material.”

In other words, while badly defended copyrights are not lost, copyrights that are not protected well can become susceptible to a lot more violation. If a few people can get away with it, why not more? When one person gets away with it, other people realize that they can too.

While it may be true that not literally every video flagged or taken down or banned by YouTube’s current policy egregiously violates copyright, I do not think it is unreasonable to say that they get a lot closer than copyright holders are comfortable with. If there are too many videos that get too close to the line, it could herald a lot more people crossing it entirely.

This is further evidenced by YouTube’s history. It has had a lot of problems with copyright violations because of a lack of enforcement. Unless copyright holders and by extension YouTube start enforcing rules related to copyrighted materials more stringently, the problem will not go away. This may require being harsher than the law strictly demands, but as explained before, YouTube has retained that right in their Terms of Service, and they freely exercise said right in order to try and stave future copyright violations.

By this reasoning, copyright holders and YouTube most certainly have reason to think that YouTube ought to enforce its copyright policy so stringently, and I am inclined to agree. Only by enforcing it strictly can future copyright infringement be deterred.

I will be the first to admit that I have taken advantage of YouTube to acquire copyrighted materials for free. I have listened to music, watched video game playthroughs, even seen an entire movie! But is it made right if we all do it? I do not think so. Copyright holders have every right to try and protect their intellectual property, YouTube has every right to strictly enforce the will of copyright holders, and they probably should if they want the problem to go away.

I know people make money on YouTube by doing things that make copyright holders uncomfortable. I know that people on YouTube are not trying to rob others of their intellectual property. But the sad truth is that if copyright holders and YouTube allow people to get away with it now, the problem will simply intensify and worsen. I do not necessarily like it any more than the next person, but I am willing to accept it. Do not lay all the blame on YouTube or on copyright holders; YouTube is just trying to uphold the law and satisfy some of its major customers, and the copyright holders just want the art they have invested in to be valuable and valued. It is really the best thing they could be doing right now.

Click here to read the opposing viewpoint by Co-Editor in Chief Kayla Rand