YouTube will pay some users' legal fees to fight copyright takedown notices

Google announced Thursday that it will take measures to defend YouTube users whose videos have been unfairly targeted for copyright violations, including paying their legal fees and defending them in court if necessary.

Using copyrighted video or music as a remix, criticism or parody can constitute fair use

Fred von Lohmann, YouTube's copyright legal director, explains copyright claims and takedown notices to a muppet in a video from 2013. (YouTube Help/YouTube)

Google announced Thursday that it will defend YouTube users whose videos have been unfairly targeted for copyright violations, including paying their legal fees and defending them in court if necessary.

"We are offering legal support to a handful of videos that we believe represent clear fair uses, which have been subject to DMCA takedowns," Google's copyright legal director Fred von Lohmann wrote on the company's blog.

Videos supported by Google in this manner will remain visible in the U.S., and be featured on its Copyright Center page "as strong examples of fair use."

A Google Canada representative told CBC News that for now, this protection will only be available in the U.S., as the fair use laws are different from fair dealing in Canadian copyright law.

Many videos on YouTube use excerpts of other copyrighted material, whether it be footage from film or television, or copyrighted pieces of music. Often they're used in criticism, remixes or parodies.

YouTube automatically scans videos on its site for any video or audio content that has been copyrighted by another owner, and blocks the offending video automatically. Users who argue their blocked video is protected under fair use can contest it with YouTube, after which, if proven, it will be restored to the site.

The question on whether a video constitutes fair use hinges on whether its use of copyrighted material is transformative, "or whether it adds new expression or meaning to the original, or whether it merely copies from the original," according to YouTube's help page "What is fair use?"

YouTube picks who to defend

The DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in the United States in 1996, is intended to prevent copyrighted works from online piracy. But it's also been used to remove material from sites like YouTube that might otherwise get a pass due to fair use laws.

YouTube told the New York Times that for now, it will only be defending four video creators that it thinks have been unfairly targeted with copyright claims, but is looking to expand the support to other users in the future.

Because of the sheer volume of copyright claims that happen on YouTube, the company will be choosing which creators to defend with this program and aren't taking requests.

"While we can't offer a legal defence to everyone, we'll remain vigilant about takedown notices impacting all creators," wrote YouTube.


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