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How I Fought a YouTube Takedown and (Eventually) Won

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February 3rd, 2011

By Guest Blogger Anita Sarkeesian<

On January 10th, 2011 I realized that one of my YouTube videos, “Too Many Dicks: Video Games Remix,” was suddenly unavailable. I was a little shocked since I hadn’t even received an email letting me know the remix had been removed, or for what reason. I still don’t know how long the video had been gone before I happened to see it was missing. I was also baffled since the video had been up for almost a year.

When I checked the video’s page I was confronted with YouTube’s red frowny face of doom, which only told me my video had been removed and provided no other information. I immediately feared it could be a copyright issue; I know of other remixers who have had their work taken down for “copyright violation.”

So, I went to my videos page and saw that it wasn’t in fact a copyright violation, it was a Terms of Service violation. At this point I was doubly confused. How is a fair use remix video made up of short clips from various popular video game trailers, all available on YouTube, a violation of their terms of service!? I decided to try and contact YouTube via their website which, it turns out, is totally impossible.

As someone who often relies on fair use in my videoblogs, I felt pretty confident that I knew how the content-ID-third-party-copyright-take-down-and-restoration process works (or doesn’t work). Only, this didn’t seem to be a copyright issue (as far as I could tell). The only thing that YouTube shared with me was a link that said “REJECTED: (Inappropriate Content)” which took me to a page with a brief statement that only said my video somehow violated YouTube’s Terms of Service, and that I was welcome to go read their Terms of Service document if I’d like. YA, THANKS, but which term of which service had I allegedly violated? Not only was YouTube’s “help page” unhelpful but it also taunted me with their little “Was this information helpful: YES or NO?” questionnaire at the end. NO. No, it was not.

What’s a woman to do with an unfair video take down and no idea where or how to file a grievance? I turned to Google for possible solutions. A few forums suggested filling out YouTube’s Terms of Service Violation Form. I did that. Then I got a computer generated generic email reply. I filled the form out again. Same reply.

This is the Terms of Use Violation Form I Filled out:

Please provide any additional details about why your account or video was removed in error:

“I have no idea why my video has been removed from YouTube as it does not violate the terms of service. I made a fair use remix critiquing the violence in video game from a feminist perspective and this video doesn’t violate the YouTube terms of service, in fact it has been online for almost a year now. Since I receive threatening messages and comments from youtube users on a regular basis I feel that this was flagged inappropriately by a user who is hostile to feminism. Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of video game trailers on YouTube with identical content. I would like to understand why my video was taken down and to have it restored. Thank you.”

This is YouTube’s Automated Email Response:

This is My Email Response to YouTube’s Response:

Luckily, Mera Szendro Bok who works at New Media Rights noticed me tweeting about my video’s removal and suggested her organization might be able to help. Mera asked me to fill out this form detailing the issue. Shortly thereafter, public interest attorney Art Neill contacted me and we discussed how YouTube did not provide any notification, explanation or process for me to dispute my video’s removal. Over the next 2 1/2 weeks he petitioned YouTube with my grievances, communicated with their illusive legal department and advocated for my video to be reinstated. On January 28th, 2011, I got an email from Art notifying me that he was successful in having my video restored.

Art was incredibly helpful, supportive and understanding. If it wasn’t for his advocacy work I might still be caught in YouTube’s autoresponding feedback loop. New Media Rights is an amazing organization that offers quality one-to-one free legal assistance on copyright and online publishing, how-to and legal guides on new media, and blogs about the latest media and internet laws.

If you have a similar problem with any of your own videos being removed from video hosting websites you can contact New Media Rights for pro bono legal advice and assistance.

It appears the “inappropriate content” was YouTube deciding my video was spam. I’m still not clear on if it was flagged as spam by my friendly neighborhood internet trolls or by some sort of content ID bot, or if it was just an error by YouTube’s master control. YouTube needs a process (a transparent one, even) informing us if our videos have been removed, why they have been removed, and how we can file a dispute. It is absurd that I had to find a lawyer who had to contact YouTube’s lawyers just to get my 1 min video, which was wrongfully removed in the first place, back on YouTube.

So now after all that, you can watch the video again!

Guest blogger Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist videoblogger. This piece is cross-posted from her blog, Feminist Frequency.


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