YouTube is suing a Nebraska man the company says has blatantly abused its copyright takedown process. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act offers online platforms like YouTube legal protections if they promptly take down content flagged by copyright holders. However, this process can be abused—and boy did defendant Christopher L. Brady abuse it, according to YouTube’s legal complaint (pdf).
Brady allegedly made fraudulent takedown notices against YouTube videos from at least three well-known streamers. In one case, Brady made two false claims against a YouTuber and then sent the user an anonymous message demanding a payment of $150 by PayPal—or $75 in bitcoin.
“If you decide not to pay us, we will file a 3rd strike,” the message said. When a YouTube user receives a third copyright strike, the YouTuber’s account gets terminated.
A second target was ordered to pay $300 by PayPal or $200 in Bitcoin to avoid a third fraudulent copyright strike.
A third incident was arguably even more egregious. According to YouTube, Brady filed several fraudulent copyright notices against another YouTuber with whom he was “engaged in some sort of online dispute.” The YouTuber responded with a formal counter-notice stating that the content wasn’t infringing—a move that allows the content to be reinstated. However, the law requires the person filing the counter-notice to provide his or her real-world name and address—information that’s passed along to the person who filed the takedown request.
This contact information is supposed to enable a legitimate copyright holder to file an infringement lawsuit in court. But YouTube says Brady had another idea. A few days after filing a counter-notice, the targeted YouTuber “announced via Twitter that he had been the victim of a swatting scheme.” Swatting, YouTube notes, “is the act of making a bogus call to emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to a particular address.”
YouTube doesn’t provide hard proof that Brady was responsible for the swatting call, stating only that it “appears” he was responsible based on the sequence of events. But YouTube says it does have compelling evidence that Brady was responsible for the fraudulent takedown notices. And fraudulent takedown notices are themselves against the law.
Section 512(f) of the DMCA says that anyone who “knowingly materially misrepresents” that content is infringing in a takedown notice is liable for costs they impose on both accused infringers and platform owners. While this law has been on the books for more than 20 years, it has rarely been used because most misrepresentations have not been blatant enough to trigger legal liability.
For example, Ars covered the decade-long fight over a “dancing baby” video that happened to have a few seconds of Prince music playing in the background. The Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that the music was clearly allowed under copyright’s fair use doctrine—and that Universal Music should be held liable for submitting a takedown request anyway. A 2016 appeals court ruling made it clear that music labels had some obligation to consider fair use before issuing takedown requests, but the court set the bar so low that the targets of bogus takedowns have little hope of actually collecting damages.
But YouTube’s accusations against Brady appear to be in a totally different category: straight-up fraud. That could allow YouTube to score a quick victory and thereby strike some fear into the hearts of others thinking about abusing YouTube’s takedown system.