Author: Ellen Seidler

YouTube’s Content ID Easily Fooled

Doing the job, but not a very good job

When people talk about effective ways to mitigate the impact of online piracy, YouTube’s Content ID is often used as an example of what works. Unfortunately, despite its role as poster boy for anti-piracy tech, in reality it falls flat as a gatekeeper against online piracy.

Aside from a labyrinth-like user interface that seems likely to have been designed–not to help– but to discourage rights holders from using Content ID, the actual fingerprinting technology behind it can be easily fooled.

YouTube introduced the Content ID system in 2007.  At the time, the company was facing pressure from a Viacom lawsuit, among others.  According to YouTube, it’s pretty straightforward:

Videos uploaded to YouTube are scanned against a database of files that have been submitted to us by content owners. Copyright owners get to decide what happens when content in a video on YouTube matches a work they own. When this happens, the video gets a Content ID claim.

Looking to make money off work they don’t own, clever YouTube users have discovered ways to fool the technology so their illegal uploads of copyrighted movies and music don’t get flagged, blocked or removed.

I began noticing this phenomenon more lately as I’ve begun to find full, infringing copies of films uploaded that matched content owned by a film distributor I work for.  This seems to be happening more often and I was curious as to how these pirated copies had avoided detected by Content ID.  When I looked closely I saw that subtle manipulations in brightness had taken place along with slight adjustments to frame size and sometimes the crop of the frame.

When I started poking around YouTube to find other examples of these uploads they were easy to find. It only took me a few minutes to find dozens of copies of a variety of full copyrighted movies, old and new. One title I came across was the 2015 release, Everest.  Below are screen captures from two different full uploads of the movie I found streaming on YouTube.

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Why is YouTube such a dump?

Time for YouTube to get serious about cleaning up all the junk, spam and malware files on its site

YouTube is great for finding videos about pretty much everything.  Need to learn how to fix a furnace or use the latest camera equipment? There’s bound to be a video shows you how.  Unfortunately, amid the useful stuff, YouTube is also chock full of garbage.  The question is, with its massive technical resources, why doesn’t the site do a better job keeping house?

I’ve written before about the epidemic of fake “full-movie” uploads that fill YouTube.  That was in 2012.  Now, four years later, the problem still exists.  Apparently, YouTube isn’t concerned that its pages are full of spam files, many of them fake pirate movie uploads that lead users to sites rife with malware and money-making scams.

These fake uploads, promising full copies of hundreds of films, both indie and mainstream, are easy to find.  Go to YouTube, search for a specific film title using the term “full movie,” and voilà, most results will lead to garbage.  These bogus uploads fall into two categories.  Some offer links to other dubious websites while others are merely dummy files uploaded to generate advertising income (for the user and YouTube).  Some do both.

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Update to Digital Millennium Copyright Act Long Overdue

Momentum is building for changes to the DMCA that will better protect creators

Content creators from all walks of life are coalescing around the need to update copyright law to protect their work against theft in digital age.  A piece in yesterday’s NY Times,  Music World Bands Together Against YouTube, Seeking Change to Lawis the latest to highlight growing calls by the creative community to update a woefully antiquated Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

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BOGUS fair use claims hurt creators already victimized by piracy

YouTube users claim Fair Use as a defense for uploading full copies of pirated movies

There was a lot of talk about fair use and takedown abuse at last week’s the U.S. Copyright Office’s Section 512 roundtables in San Francisco.  Many of those who spoke, bemoaned how poor, innocent uploaders were victimized, time after time, by malicious DMCA takedowns.

It’s a tried and true talking point, convenient, but disingenuous all the same.  Some of us, myself included, tried to make the point that creators, whose work is routinely (and massively stolen),  are often (doubly) victimized by malicious fair use claims.  

I thought I’d share an example of this that occurred just this week on YouTube.  On Tuesday a full-copy of the Swedish indie film “Kyss Mig” (all 147 minutes of it) was uploaded to YouTube by a user aptly named “Free Movies.”  As an added flourish, the user-name included the notation, “free movies bitches.”

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More Google DMCA misdirection…refusing takedown requests for Blogger sites with custom domains

Hop aboard for another spin on Google’s DMCA Merry-Go-Round

It’s not news that Google-hosted Blogger websites are a favorite storefront for online pirates.  It’s also not news that Google does its best to obstruct DMCA takedowns by setting up various roadblocks along the way.  Today I discovered yet another example of just how difficult Google makes the DMCA process–this time with Blogger-hosted sites that use custom domain names.

When you create a blog using Blogger you’re given a domain that ends in blogspot.com. However users are free to use a custom domain name instead.  That’s all well and good, unless the website distributes pirated content.  In that case, if you’re a creator trying to get your pirated content removed (by Google), you’re likely to run into problems.

Usually, when one of these pirate entrepreneurs creates a site on blogspot.com a rightsholder can send a DMCA by using Google’s annoying web form (or annoy them by sending an email: [email protected]).  However, if you use the same DMCA form to report a blogger-hosted site with a custom domain, Google won’t remove it.  They’ll just send you back to the beginning.

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A flawed study on the DMCA – Peeling back the layers of the onion

Berkeley Law’s dubious study on copyright notice and takedown faces more scrutiny

Last month–a day before deadline for public comments on the U.S. Copyright Office’s study on the impact and effectiveness of the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), section 512–UC-Berkeley School of Law and the American Assembly (via the Google-funded Takedown Project) released a study purporting to give a “broad picture of how section 512 notice and takedown works on the ground.”

A day after its release I wrote quick post highlighting some initial concerns with the study, but hadn’t had time to fully digest the entire 160 page report.  Now, nearly a month later, others have taken the time to more carefully look at the study and uncover its (many) dubious findings.  Kevin Madigan & Devlin Hartline  scholars at the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) have published a detailed response to study, “Separating Fact from Fiction in the Notice and Takedown Debate,” and note:

The study reads more like propaganda than robust empiricism. It should be taken for what it is: A policy piece masquerading as an independent study.

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Box Office Profits NOT Proof Piracy Doesn’t Hurt

Piracy erodes audience options-forces studios to make fewer films

The movie industry makes record profits so piracy doesn’t matter after all.…that’s the gist of many headlines following MPAA Chief Chris Dodd’s recent speech at Cinemacon’s Las Vegas convention last week where he said, “the state of our industry has never been stronger.”  We’ve seen this phenomenon before.  Positive news about record global box office revenue is twisted into justification for the pro-piracy mantra that piracy doesn’t hurt filmmakers.

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Google’s “safe browsing” initiative is more bark than bite

Despite headlines, it’s still business as usual for Google — Piracy sites full of malware and deceptive ads top Google search

Last fall Google introduced a series of steps to strengthen its Safe Browsing initiative announcing it would include protection against, “social engineering attacks – deceptive tactics that try to trick you into doing something dangerous, like installing unwanted software or revealing your personal information (for example, passwords, phone numbers, or credit cards).
Sounds like a positive step against online piracy since malware and deceptive advertising is online piracy’s bread and butter right? WRONG…

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Google-funded study on copyright takedowns drops the ball

Google-funded report generates desired headlines and conveniently downplays the role of DMCA counter-notices–ignoring fact the system is weighted against rights holders

A new report on the DMCA notice and takedown system, Notice and Takedown in Everyday Practice, was released yesterday.  Co-authored by researchers at Berkeley Law and Columbia University (collaborators for The Takedown Project), the release is clearly timed to generate buzz to coincide with the April 1st deadline for comments to the U.S. Copyright Office on the state of the 512 statute.

The study is said to offer, “a rare, in-depth, empirical look at ways online copyright disputes are handled between Internet companies, such as Google and YouTube, and content creators, such as movie, music, and publishing companies.”  Hmmm, color me a tad suspicious of any piracy-related report funded by Google*.

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Google really, really doesn’t like you to send DMCA requests via email

The Google team doesn’t seem to appreciate email as a form of communication

I’ve written about Google’s laborious and time-consuming DMCA takedown maze, a process that forces creators to find, then fill out cumbersome online forms. I’ve also written about the fact that Google makes it difficult, if not impossible, to find the email address for its DMCA Agent–in apparent violation of  the law’s requirements.

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