YouTube is suing a Nebraska man who the company says has publicly abused its copyright transfer process. Today’s Millennium Copyright Act offers online platforms like YouTube legal protections if they quickly take down content shown by copyright holders. However, this technique can be abused—and the boy accused Christopher L. Brady of abusing it, according to YouTube. legal complaint (pdf).
Brady has allegedly made fraudulent takedown notices against YouTube videos from at least three well-known ones Minecraft streaming In one case, Brady made two false claims to a YouTuber and then sent the user an anonymous message demanding a payment of $150 via PayPal—or $75 in bitcoin.
“If you decide not to pay us, we will do a 3rd strike,” the message said. When a YouTube user receives a third copyright strike, the YouTuber’s account will be terminated.
The second target was ordered to pay $300 via PayPal or $200 in Bitcoin to avoid a third fraudulent copyright strike.
The third event is arguably even more extreme. According to YouTube, Brady filed several fraudulent copyright notices against another YouTuber with whom he “engaged in some sort of online dispute.” The YouTuber responded with a counter-claim stating that the content was not infringing—a move that allowed the content to be restored. However, the law requires the person filing the counter-notification to provide his or her real name and address—information that was passed on to the person who filed the complaint.
This contact information should enable the copyright holder to file an infringement case in court. But YouTube says Brady has another idea. A few days after the counter-notice was filed, the targeted YouTuber “announced via Twitter that he had been the victim of a swatting program.” Swatting, YouTube notes, “is the act of making a fake call to emergency services in an attempt to trigger the dispatch of multiple armed police to a specific address.”
YouTube did not provide hard evidence that Brady was responsible for the swatting call, saying only that it “appears” he was responsible based on a series of events. But YouTube says it has compelling evidence that Brady was responsible for the fraudulent takedown notices. And fraudulent takedown notices are themselves against the law.
Section 512(f) of the DMCA states that anyone who “knowingly materially asserts” that the content is infringing in a takedown notice is liable for the costs they incur on both the plaintiffs and the platform owners. While this law has been on the books for more than 20 years, it has rarely been used because many violations have not been serious enough to cause legal liability.
For example, Ars covered a decade-long fight over a “baby dance” video that happened to have a few minutes of a Prince song playing in the background. The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the music is clearly allowed under the authority’s fair use doctrine—and that Universal Music should be responsible for submitting a takedown request anyway. A 2016 appeals court ruling made it clear that music labels have some obligation to consider fair use before issuing portability requests, but the court set a low bar of what targets bogus takedowns have little hope of receiving damages.
But YouTube’s allegations against Brady seem to fall into an entirely different category: outright fraud. That could allow YouTube to achieve a quick win and thus strike some fear into the minds of others who are thinking about abusing YouTube’s release system.