All is not well at YouTube, whose automated copyright strike system is allowing scammers to target the platform's smaller channels with blatant extortion schemes. YouTube's hands-off approach to handling DMCA takedowns has fallen under increasing scrutiny and criticism lately as an increasing number of channels report fraudulent use of what amounts to a big red button that any entity can exploit to hold YouTubers' videos ransom. In this case, the guilty party wanted a literal ransom in return for not having victims' entire channels taken down.
YouTube has made it rather unnecessarily rough for itself over the past few months, having self-published the platform's most disliked video ever late last year. Around the same time, the developers of Escape from Tarkov, a little-known PC game, filed takedown requests against dozens of a gaming channel's videos due to their critical stance on the game. Whereas YouTube's copyright strike system is intended to provide intellectual property owners with an instant means of protecting their copyrighted material from those seeking to illegally profit from it, this incident was one of many that highlighted the relative ease with which videos could be removed despite there being a complete lack of evidence of any DMCA violations.
So if YouTube's copyright strike system is unable to verify if there is any copyright-breaching content in a flagged video before removing it, it ought to at least be able to tell if the user filing the claim in the first place even owns the copyrighted material, right? Wrong. As evidenced by a recent run-in with an online scammer with a penchant for copyright strikes suffered by small-time Minecraft YouTubers ObbyRaidz and Kenzo, it appears that just about anyone can successfully log these claims and have videos and channels removed with little to no oversight from YouTube. Luckily, both ObbyRaidz and Kenzo took to Twitter to report the criminal user and his demands for money in exchange for not having a third video from each of their channels removed by copyright strike - a move which would have at least temporarily terminated their channels and likely demonetized their content for good.
Appreciate you bringing this to our attention – both strikes are resolved and the videos reinstated. Upon review, these takedown notices were abusive, we have zero tolerance for the submission of fraudulent legal requests, so we also terminated the channels that submitted these.— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) January 30, 2019
Appreciate your patience —we confirmed that this takedown notice was (obviously) abusive. The strike on your channel is resolved and the video is reinstated. This is an example of a fraudulent legal request, which we have zero tolerance for, so we also terminated this channel.— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) January 30, 2019
In response, YouTube restored each YouTubers' fraudulently targeted videos and terminated the accounts of the copyright strike abuser. However, it gives one pause to consider how many other small channels this single criminal potentially may have extorted without having gone reported, or at least without any reports having been miraculously heard by YouTube on social media. Taking this line of thinking a few steps further, it's disconcerting to think about how many channels this single fraudulent user may have been operating to run their numerous scams, and even more so that YouTube seems to be taking no legal action beyond removing their accounts. How many scammers are prowling YouTube pulling this exact same grift on channels so small they can never hope to be heard - all with no real repercussions?
It goes without saying that YouTube will continue to need a tool that can quickly and soundly fight unlicensed and pirated material from sullying the platform's reputation, but it's becoming increasingly clear that bootleggers and thieves aren't the only kind of criminal whose illegal activities YouTube needs to take steps to mitigate. YouTube needs to take a long, internal look at its currently automated approach to copyright strikes and make much-needed changes fast before routine extortion replaces a cringey YouTube Rewind as the platform's biggest worry.