youtube purges: fair use tested

Last week there was a wave of takedowns on YouTube of copyright-infringing material -? mostly clips from television and movies. MediaCommons, the nascent media studies network we help to run, felt this rather acutely. In Media Res, an area of the site where media scholars post and comment on video clips, uses YouTube and other free hosting sites like Veoh and to stream its video. The upside of this is that it’s convenient, free and fast. The downside is that it leaves In Media Res, which is quickly becoming a valuable archive of critically annotated media artifacts, vulnerable to the copyright purges that periodically sweep fan-driven media sites, YouTube especially.
In this latest episode, a full 27 posts on In Media Res suddenly found themselves with gaping holes where video clips once had been. The biggest single takedown we’ve yet experienced. Fortunately, since we regard these sorts of media quotations as fair use, we make it a policy to rip backups of every externally hosted clip so that we can remount them on our own server in the event of a takedown. And so, with a little work, nearly everything was restored -? there were a few clips that for various reasons we had failed to back up. We’re still trying to scrounge up other copies.
The MediaCommons fair use statement reads as follows:

MediaCommons is a strong advocate for the right of media scholars to quote from the materials they analyze, as protected by the principle of “fair use.” If such quotation is necessary to a scholar’s argument, if the quotation serves to support a scholar’s original analysis or pedagogical purpose, and if the quotation does not harm the market value of the original text — but rather, and on the contrary, enhances it — we must defend the scholar’s right to quote from the media texts under study.

The good news is that In Media Res carries on relatively unruffled, but these recent events serve as a sobering reminder of the fragility of the media ecology we are collectively building, of the importance of the all too infrequently invoked right of fair use in non-textual media contexts, and of the need for more robust, legally insulated media archives. They also supply us with a handy moral: keep backups of everything. Without a practical contingency plan, fair use is just a bunch of words.
Incidentally, some of these questions were raised in a good In Media Res post last August by Sharon Shahaf of the University of Texas, Austin: The Promises and Challenges of Fan-Based On-Line Archives for Global Television.

2 thoughts on “youtube purges: fair use tested

  1. alex itin

    I have encountered this problem as well. Typically they leave a dead link with a single image from the vid. I’ve decided to leave them there like fossils, but I’m glad you guys backed up everything you need.

  2. Pat Aufderheide

    This problem vividly illustrates the way in which freedom of expression is sabotaged by the content industries’ desperate attempts to control copying. My co-author Peter Jaszi and I also pointed this out in our study released last week: “Recut, Reframe, Recycle,” (, about online videos’ use of copyrighted material. Many videos, we found, use copyrighted material in what may very well be a perfectly legal way, under fair use. But they are all at risk of takedowns. The industry reps (such as NBC’s Rick Cotton, who I discussed in a blog entry yesterday, , say there’s no problem because most people don’t protest and demand counter-takedowns. Hello? Most people don’t even know how to do that.

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