YouTube Anti-Scientology Takedowns: Good News, Bad News

YouTube Anti-Scientology Takedowns: Good News, Bad News
Commentary by Eva Galperin

Now that the dust has settled on the anti-Scientology video takedown controversy, it’s time to take stock. For those of you who missed this one: on September 4th and 5th, hundreds and possibly thousands of videos critical of the Church of Scientology were taken down as a result of DMCA notices reportedly sent by by American Rights Counsel, Dr. Oliver Schaper, the Schaper Company, Media House Enterprises, and ContentFactory America. It rapidly became clear that these entities did not hold the copyrights to the materials they claimed to be infringed, including footage from a Clearwater City Commission meeting and a man-on-the-street interview. In addition, many of these videos were obvious fair uses, such as independent news reports.

Here’s the good news: YouTube quickly realized something was fishy, and began investigating. Within days, YouTube suspended the accounts that had sent out the allegedly fraudulent DMCA takedown notices, reinstated the accounts that had been suspended for multiple allegations of copyright infringement, and put most of the videos back up on YouTube, all without waiting to receive DMCA counter-notices from YouTube users who had had their videos taken down.

Well done, YouTube. The company identified a problem and worked to resolve it and protect users, rather than waiting passively for the takedown targets to send counter-notices. As we noted last month, online service providers play a crucial role in preserving and promoting online political speech, and YouTube seems to have taken that role seriously here.

Now, the bad news: if YouTube had not been proactive in dealing with what appeared to be fraud, the Anti-Scientology videos might still be down today. Very few YouTube users filed DMCA counter-notices in response to the takedowns, apparently out of concern for their privacy. The DMCA-compliant counter-notices must normally include the full name, address, and telephone number of the alleged copyright infringer. YouTube passes this information along to the party making the copyright infringement claim. Scientology critics, reportedly concerned about Scientology’s alleged Fair Game policy, were reluctant to surrender their anonymity.