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YouTomb Shows Music Labels Stepping Up YouTube Copyright Crackdowns

Every month, thousands of videos are pulled off YouTube for copyright infringement and other user-flagged violations. A student organization at MIT called Free Culture has compiled a kind of online eulogizer for videos lost to copyright claims, tracking all the metadata from the video, including which user asked that it be taken down. It’s called YouTomb, and in the last year it’s learned a lot about what gets flagged, what stays, and what’s wrong with the system.

Every month, thousands of videos are pulled off YouTube for copyright infringement and other user-flagged violations. A student organization at MIT called Free Culture has compiled a kind of online eulogizer for videos lost to copyright claims, tracking all the metadata from the video, including which user asked that it be taken down. It’s called YouTomb, and in the last year it’s learned a lot about what gets flagged, what stays, and what’s wrong with the system.

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No, you can’t watch the removed videos there–it’s not that kind of repository. The project aims to establish an understanding of exactly which kinds of popular videos are pulled, and what kinds of trends they’re creating. Free Culture says it’s interested in the way YouTube’s content-fingerprinting technology works, and the extent to which it is infringing on users’ right to fair use.

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So what has the group learned? Several of YouTube’s biggest copyright-flaggers have upped their efforts in recent months. Warner Music Group, which goes by the username WMG, had a total of 1440 takedowns in 2008–already in 2009 the music company scored over twice that number, registering at 3707 takedowns. According to YouTomb’s math, the average life of a copyright infringing video from WMG has gone from 54 days in November of 2008 to just eight days as of February 2009.

Another phenomenon the site highlights: brainless automated copyright flags on material that isn’t actually an infringement at all. Take, for example, videos of music fans playing tributes to their favorite bands. If the fans are good musicians, the soundtrack to their videos will register with Google’s content fingerprinting system, and will auto-generate the flag, allowing the copyright holder for the song to request that the song be taken down. The Evansescence tribute, below, is one such example.



A frequent topic of conversation on YouTomb: what will come to replace YouTube once its copyright protection becomes too aggressive? Some have opted for Hulu embeds, but those are only viewable in the U.S. Still others are hoping that video sites diversify, so that the music companies have a harder time getting their material removed.

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About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs

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