Monday, February 29, 2016

Volume 11, Number 4: My Thoughts on the YouTube Copyright Strike System

On February 26, after more than 3.5 years of being banned from YouTube for multiple copyright infringement violations, I finally got one of my three "copyright strikes" removed.¹  In short, I got my account back.

For those of you who remember those uncensored Kitchen Nightmares videos I used to post to that account, I have bad news: You will never see them again because they are a big reason why my channel got taken down in June 2012.  My copyright strikes were all based on legitimate complaints, each from a different copyright owner, and in each case, none of the content was my creation.  I apologize to all three owners (Viacom, NBA Properties and ITV Studios Inc.) for sharing content that was not mine to share.

I recognize that YouTube faces challenges on two fronts: It wants to be a major media platform, especially for new content creators, but at the same time, it has to fight against the piracy that plagued it during its early years.

With that said, the way YouTube addresses copyrighted material has room for improvement.  Earlier this month, Doug Walker (The Nostalgia Critic) discussed a number of shortcomings in the current copyright claim/strike system in his Where's The Fair Use video, along with Alex of I Hate Everything (IHE) and Adam Johnston of Your Movie Sucks. These three YouTubers have a combined total of 1.3 million subscribers.  The two biggest shortcomings are summarized below.  For your convenience, Doug's video is embedded right below them.
  • Lack of fairness.  At present, claimants making false copyright claims have far more power than defendants who have evidence supporting their claims of fair use (a legal doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders).  Johnston pointed out that claimants can make unlimited claims while defendants are limited to no more than three appeals.  Walker added, "There are no penalties for companies creating false claims or strikes," and there should be.  (UPDATE 3-2-16: Yesterday, two other critics, Bobsheaux and TheMysteriousMrEnter, posted videos about takedowns; the latter stated that he cannot appeal the claimant's takedown request until after the video is taken down on March 8, at which point he will be given a strike, and that is also not fair, seeing as the claimant didn't have a waiting period.)
  • Lack of human interaction.  YouTube is relying more on automated processes in its fight against piracy.  This leads to a lot of videos automatically getting removed regardless of whether the claim is well-founded or not.  The recent rash of copyright-related takedowns may have been the result of changes to an "abuse algorithm" that went haywire and overstepped its bounds.  Compounding matters further, when creators try to appeal claims and strikes, they are often met with useless auto-reply e-mails.  Alex of IHE said, "The automated e-mails and forms seem designed in such a way that no human working at YouTube will ever actually see them. ... There was no one I could contact to fix a very, very simple problem."

I like two other suggestions Doug Walker made, starting at the 11:39 mark of his video:
  • The first is related to the ad revenue a video generates.  Right now, when a copyright claim is made, the claimant can take and keep that revenue--even if the claim is false.  Walker suggested that the money instead be put into an escrow account pending the resolution of any counterclaim (so that if the claim is not valid, the money would go back to the video's creator).
  • The second is having a grace period so that in the event that the user who posted the video has a counterclaim, they are not immediately penalized.
I'd like to add this gripe I have with the current system:
  • Lack of consistency.  Users who receive a second copyright strike are made to watch the YouTube Copyright School video, which takes more than 4.5 minutes to talk about how posting content you don't own is wrong.  At the 1:37 mark, the narrator says, "If YouTube receives a valid notification of alleged copyright infringement from a copyright holder for one of your videos, the video will be removed in accordance with the law."  Based on what's gone on recently, YouTube's automated processes are handing out claims and strikes without verifying the validity of the allegations behind them, and without taking Fair Use into consideration (as they should per the Lenz v. Universal ruling last year).  So what's going on now is not consistent with that Copyright School video statement (and the video itself needs to be updated anyway, since it was produced in 2011, more than four years before the Lenz v. Universal ruling).  Another inconsistency I find is that there are still plenty of unauthorized postings of entire movies and albums on YouTube, yet critical reviews and parodies seem more likely to get hit with claims or strikes (even though the latter examples fall within fair use and the former examples don't).
YouTube should receive this message loud and clear: Don't leave judgment calls to computers.  They wanted to make it easy to support new and independent creators while still keeping piracy at bay, but automated processes are not the be-all, end-all answer.  Software engineers need people to test programs for errors and give feedback on functionality, sporting events need officials to make sure the game is being played fairly and cleanly, manufacturers test products for safety and functionality--I could go on and on.  Point being, human intervention is still necessary.  YouTube needs people to review and judge allegations because its software, while efficient at identifying non-original content, haven't been all that effective in distinguishing piracy from fair use.

What YouTube doesn't need, as Walker noted in his video, is people who "see change as too hard or too much work, not willing to put in the effort to do what they know is right."  This reminds me what J.K. Rowling said in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire about the choice between what is right and what is easy.  Sometimes doing what's right isn't easy, but that doesn't excuse you from putting in the extra effort.  Above all, no one should ever place people's rights arbitrarily in the virtual hands of algorithms.

One more thing I'd like for YouTube to consider is giving harsher penalties for large amounts of infringing content (like a whole movie or album).  Most states in the United States assign varying amounts of points to driving violations (e.g. six for driving drunk, two for going 10 miles per hour or less over the speed limit).  Giving the same one-strike penalty to someone who posts a scene from an old TV show as to someone who posts a recently-released feature-length movie doesn't seem right.
In closing, I'd like to thank all the critics featured in the Where's The Fair Use video, especially Doug Walker and Alex, for fighting not only a good fight, but a very important one.

And to you, the reader, thank you for your time in considering the issues discussed in that video and here in this blog entry.

¹ In case you were wondering why it took me so long to get any of my strikes removed, here's what happened: In 2012, I had two strikes and was waiting on the second strike to expire when I got hit with strike #3, which led to my YouTube channel being shut down.  That put me in a catch-22--I needed to make a successful counterclaim against any of my three strikes just to get my YouTube account back, but I needed my YouTube account in order to access the counterclaim webform.  Recently, however, I learned that YouTube now allows you to make a counterclaim by using e-mail, as explained at this link.  This e-mail counterclaim method allowed me to bypass the run-around I had been getting in 2012, and I was able to get NBA Properties to remove my second copyright strike.  Thank you, NBA Properties, for your understanding and cooperation; and thank you, YouTube, for getting rid of that damn catch-22.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Volume 11, Number 3: To Infinity, and... Belleville?

Before I start this entry, a story about a job lead gone bad, I want to follow up on an earlier blog entry about the logo/uniform concept I submitted for Paul Lukas' Uni Watch Redesign The Rams contest.  It got published--well, part of it, but I'm still very happy about it.  Read more about it here.

I was thinking back to what I was going through nine years ago today.  I had been out of work for about three weeks, and my savings--already decimated from being out of work for five weeks the previous summer--had taken a big hit.  I was desperate for work.

Or, at least I thought I was desperate for work.

I responded to an ad on posted by a company called Infinity Marketing Group.  They said they were hiring for positions in marketing, business-to-business deliveries, and customer service.
  • Marketing, in the traditional sense of the word, has a number of different departments, one of which is research, and that's the kind of job I was looking for (which is why I responded to the ad in the first place).
  • As for business-to-business deliveries, maybe it meant delivering products for test marketing to focus group facilities--that didn't sound like a skilled position, so it didn't interest me.
  • Customer service was my second choice--I imagined that it might involve fielding calls from the business expecting deliveries.  Although it isn't the greatest kind of job in the world, it does require being organized, and once you've been working there for a while, having a good memory can help, too; above all, it would at least keep food on my table and gas in my car.
So I applied, and a few days later, went to their office in Roseville, Michigan, where I sat with a bunch of other people for a couple hours waiting for an interview.  The guy I interviewed with asked me if I was self-motivated, if I was a go-getter, and while these are terms you hear a lot in the sales world, they could be used in any line of work.  You have to be self-motivated in order to go to any job; you have to be a go-getter to do your job, I thought to myself, so I answered "yes" to those questions.  When I got home, they called me back to say they wanted me in for a second interview, plus they'd even pay for my lunch.  It sounded promising.

Or, at least I thought it sounded promising.

The next day, I put on my best suit and shoes, thinking that this was a bona fide interview for a bona fide job.  When I arrived at the office in Roseville, though, I found out what a load of bullcrap I had walked into.  A "manager" (Nick) and a "manager trainee" (Brandon) met with me and another man who had responded to the ad (Chris).  They asked us to help them load some stuff into the back of Brandon's old Chevy Blazer--crappy radio/calculator things I wouldn't even buy at a dollar store (similar to the one pictured here), fuzzy velvet coloring sets (kind of like this one), balloon animal kits, and Disney Pixar jigsaw puzzle books.  The Blazer itself seemed like it would not be long for the world, judging by the faded paint, the sound of the engine, and the fact that the headliner was sagging and was held in place only by pins.

I could have sworn Nick said we would be delivering stuff to businesses, but we didn't stop anywhere until we arrived in Belleville--more than 40 miles away from Roseville.  During the drive, Nick talked about the company--facts like how one of its biggest clients was The Walt Disney Company, or how one of the company's owners was also a part-owner of the NBA's Toronto Raptors.

When we arrived in Belleville, the first thing Brandon did was ask a pedestrian passing by, rather loudly, "Have you seen any of the new ones?"  That struck a nerve with me.  I was sure I heard something like that once, several years ago (I remember looking for a rummage sale in Canton or Wayne and had stopped to check the address), and it didn't make any sense--"new ones?"  How the hell would I know what he meant by that?  I certainly wouldn't know what the "old ones" were, that's for sure.  Back then, I just got in my car and drove away, feeling so annoyed that I made no further effort to find the address I was looking for.  Now, hearing Brandon ask that same question had me thinking that this situation was not what I had in mind.

Let's consider the types of jobs that Infinity claimed they were filling:
  • "Business-to-business deliveries," as it turned out, was a euphemism for, "We're going to barge into various places where people work and interrupt them and their customers and try to sell this crap to them."  That alone turned me off.  I had imagined it meant delivering stuff to business that they had already ordered; for example, delivering copies of a CD to a music store, or delivering knife sets to cooking stores or restaurants.  I was not looking for any kind of sales job, and I most certainly did not want to sell anything the way Brandon and Nick were doing it.  That is called street peddling, a form of sales I thought the Internet would render extinct (along with TV shopping networks).  With the Internet, people can decide what they want and how much they are willing to pay for it--that's how I prefer to sell stuff anytime I need to.  I would not expect someone to sell me crap while getting my hair cut, yet that's what I saw Nick do, selling those cheap calculator radios at 3 for $5 to people who had come to a local barber shop to get their hair cut.
  • Customer service?  I didn't see anything like it--rather the opposite.  At one point, I saw a piece fall out of one of the Disney Pixar puzzle books I was carrying, and I wanted to stop and find it and put it back.  Nick didn't like that; he said it would slow everyone down.  He said that not only did he not mind a piece being missing, but he could sell it like that, and furthermore, he even proceeded to throw one of his copies of the very same puzzle book into a nearby puddle and said that he could sell that as well.  He asked if I wanted to bet him that he couldn't.  I wisely did not--I would have lost.  He had just established himself as one of the thickest-skinned sons of bitches I had ever met, and his ability to communicate and sell was unquestionable.  He sold both the book with the missing puzzle piece and the one he threw in the puddle.  His idea of customer service evidently wasn't anything like my idea of customer service.
  • Marketing?  Only if you don't know the difference between marketing and street peddling.  In his sales speech, Nick would keep referring to "test marketing" that was being done for "one day only."  Here's why I would never call it test marketing: Proper test marketing is done at a research facility, not on the street (and especially not by interrupting people who are running errands).  Furthermore, in proper test marketing, the test subjects don't pay for anything--they may keep the item in exchange for completing a survey about it.  I tried explaining to Nick about what I had in mind--that marketing includes a few different types of jobs, like package design, advertisement design and research, and marketing research was what I was interested in--but either he didn't want to listen to what I had to say, or he didn't understand it to begin with.  Obviously, we were wasting each other's time.
I wanted to go home as soon as it was evident that this was not something I would want to do in a million years.  Problem is, as I said earlier, my car and I were 40 miles apart at this point.  Nick and Brandon weren't about to drive me back to Roseville, and they also didn't want to spend any more time with someone who was no longer interested in the miserable existence they called a job.  There were no buses, and a taxi would have cost me more than the money I had on me, so I had no choice but to "tough it out" by spending the rest of this obviously wasted day in the back seat of Brandon's beat-up old Blazer in Belleville.

At one point, I overheard Nick and Brandon bragging about making a killing on the cheap calculator radios.  So much for Disney being such a big client--maybe their definition of "one of our biggest clients" was how big the client itself was, not how much business they did with them.

The job posting was absolutely underhanded.  This so-called "job" wasn't even worth putting on a button-down shirt and Dockers, let alone my best suit and dress shoes.  Chris did help Nick and Brandon sell stuff, but only because he didn't want to be cheated out of a free lunch (whereas when I admitted before lunch that I did not want to do this, I ended up having to pay for my own lunch.  Towards the end of this wasted day, Chris asked me if anyone had ever told me what Infinity was really up to.  "N friggin' O," I said.  "N to the mother-friggin' O," Chris agreed.  He was the one who hit the nail on the head--this was not marketing, it was street peddling.  We also talked about how Infinity was set up as a pyramid scheme (in which people had to recruit other people to sell stuff, and those other people had to recruit still more people, similar to Vector and their Cutco knives).

When I got back home, after half a day walking through snow and mud carrying a bunch of crap and watching a thick-skinned man interrupt decent, mild-mannered people to sell it, and another half-day sitting in the back of a beat-up old SUV, I was tired as heck.  But above all, I was relieved that I was done with them.  Furthermore, I didn't get any mud on my suit or mess up my shoes.

It was back to the drawing board as far as searching for work was concerned--I had reached the point where I even resorted to applying for jobs in other states.  Fortunately, the opportunity for my current job presented itself less than two weeks later, and I haven't been out of work since.

Looking back, there were signs that I should have taken to mean "get out before you waste any more of your time":

  • Sitting in a room with 20 other people for a couple hours just to wait for an interview--that was something I had done once before, also with bad results (in 1992, when I was in college and looking for a summer job, and what sounded like educating people about the need for tougher recycling laws turned out to be door-to-door fundraising).
  • The questions about being self-motivated and a go-getter--I'll remember that these are signs that the company is looking for thick-skinned salesmen, and that's not me.
  • Ads that advertise for multiple types of positions--that's understandable for a chain of stores or restaurants that need people in multiple areas when they're opening a new location, but a marketing firm--a real marketing firm that understands words like "research" and "focus group" and "survey"--is more likely to advertise for one specific position. That is the one reason I should not have responded to that ad.