YouTube Sued by Content Creators For Copyright Infringement, Unfair Treatment

Grammy-winning composer and musician Maria Schneider and Pirate Monitor Ltd. filed a class action complaint against YouTube for copyright infringement on Thursday in the Northern District of California, claiming that YouTube does not afford them the same opportunity to remove infringing work as larger content creators and that infringing work that is removed from the platform is often reuploaded and posted by users without repercussions.

The plaintiffs, “ordinary creators of copyrighted works,” claim that YouTube “is replete with videos infringing on the rights of copyright holders.” They added that “YouTube has facilitated and induced this hotbed of copyright infringement through its development and implementation of a copyright enforcement system that protects only the most powerful copyright owners such as major studios and record labels.” Furthermore, the plaintiffs said their “limitations are deliberate and designed to maximize YouTube’s (and its parents Google’s and Alphabet’s) focused but reckless drive for user volume and advertising revenue.”

In addition to claiming that they do not have a meaningful enforcement tool to prevent this infringement, the plaintiffs also said that “the system in place actually exacerbates the harms caused to them including in a manner that bars Defendants from the protections of any safe harbors under applicable copyright laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (‘DMCA’).” To manage copyrights for large content creators, YouTube has a “Content ID – a digital footprint tool that compares videos being uploaded on YouTube to a catalogue of copyrighted material submitted by those entities permitted to utilize Content ID.” Content ID allows the copyright owner to identify infringing works and to determine what happens to the infringing work. The plaintiffs stated that “Content ID is not only unavailable to Plaintiffs and the Class, but it actually insulates the vast majority of known and repeated copyright infringers from YouTube’s repeat infringer policy, thereby encouraging its users’ continuing upload of infringing content.” Consequently, the plaintiffs said they must manually manage their work and monitor for infringement, and then file individual notices with YouTube to take down the infringing work. The plaintiffs add that Content ID is allegedly designed to prevent big entities from suing the platform and that it is “in, effect, created a two-tiered system whereby the rights of large creators with resources to take Defendants to court on their own are protected, while smaller and independent creators like Plaintiffs and the Class are deliberately left out in the cold.”

The DMCA, according to the plaintiffs,  is designed to provide “a safe harbor against copyright infringement claims for entities such as YouTube so long as they formulate and reasonably enforce a policy terminating repeat copyright infringers from their platform.” YouTube purportedly issues copyright strikes when an ordinary content creator files a takedown notice, after three strikes in 90 days the user account is terminated, however, the plaintiffs stated that the Content ID system does not issue any copyright strikes. Thus, the plaintiffs argued that copyright infringement claims through Content ID are insulated from its repeat infringer policy, encouraging users to upload infringing content. They also note that the Content ID system is quicker and provides users with an immediate response in comparison to the manual and antiquated takedown notice process that plaintiffs are forced to use.

In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs seek to emphasize the importance of copyright and copyright enforcement. For example, plaintiff Schneider claims that “at least twelve separate YouTube videos of [her song] ‘Hang Gliding’ are published by YouTube, with tens of thousands of cumulative plays performed by various groups, and none of which are uploads authorized by Plaintiff Schneider.” She further stated that after multiple takedown requests these songs are still subsequently posted in part or in full on YouTube. Plaintiff Pirate Monitor noted that its work, “Immigrants”, is copyrighted; Pirate Monitor has applied for access to the Content ID program, but has not received access. Pirate Monitor stated that its content has been infringed through the publication of unauthorized videos, which it requests that YouTube take down. The plaintiff adds that even when “Immigrants”is taken down it “has been reposted in full following” the first takedown notice. Furthermore, “Pirate Monitor has been prevented from sending takedown notices for each of these works because Defendants limit the number of notices that Plaintiff and the Class can send in a day.” The plaintiffs alleged that no matter how many takedown notices they file and how many times the infringing content is remove “the same person or another person has subsequently re-uploaded Plaintiffs’ copyrighted” content.

The plaintiffs are represented by Korein Tillery, LLC and Boies Schiller Flexner LLP.