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Rant Time: YouTube, Copyrights and Content ID

Posted in botch, business, Google, youtube by commorancy on May 16, 2017

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know what YouTube is. It is a video sharing platform that allows anyone to post video content onto the Internet. YouTube offers the likes of travel videos, personal vlogs, how to guides, DIY projects, music to all types of random content. However, Hollywood has forced Google to employ more and more heavy handed techniques to video uploads to (ahem) protect big Hollywood copyright content. This system is severely flawed. Let’s explore.

YouTube Channel ownership

While it’s fun to run around on YouTube looking for all kinds of weird content, let’s look at what it’s like to be a channel owner and all the fun we’re not having. While I do like writing blog articles, I also have a gaming channel on YouTube. So, I have personal experience with this issue. I like to play games on my consoles and upload recorded game content to YouTube for others to share in my fun.

As a channel owner, you really don’t get many tools other than a content uploader and metadata tools to tweak a video’s description, tags, monetization settings, language, etc. As a channel owner, YouTube offers no tools to the owner to validate that your content is, in fact, your content. Meaning, for example, you might have taken a video of a day at the beach with wave sounds in the background. Then, you’ve uploaded it. Or, you’re playing Grand Theft Auto and you record your session (minus any copyrighted audio to not trigger YouTube’s audio content detection system) and upload. Here’s where things start to fall apart.

YouTube Content ID and content ownership

Besides being a channel owner or a viewer, there is also a third lesser known management meta user. This interface is intended to be used by Hollywood and the music industry. It was designed for the likes of EMI, Sony and other large music and movie conglomerate content creators (mostly by legal threats to Google). This system allows those content creators to submit their content to YouTube into the Content ID system. What is Content ID?

Content ID is a way for YouTube’s automated system to match a channel owner’s content against a copyright owner’s uploaded reference content. Seems like a legitimate thing. I mean, it allows artist’s representatives to make sure their content isn’t being placed onto YouTube unauthorized. Where’s the problem then?

YouTube is the problem

Here’s the rant. The problem is that ANYONE can create a meta content management account and begin uploading any content they wish against YouTube’s content ID matching system. YouTube requires no verification by any alleged content creator. They create a content meta account, get approved (which is apparently relatively easy), upload random content and begin matching against videos on people’s channels. In fact, I’ve even seen content management accounts grab original videos from other people’s channels, download them from YouTube, upload them into the content ID matching system and claim ownership over material that they stole from the original owner. Yes, you can even upload content you downloaded from another YouTube channel and claim ownership of that content in your channel… though, that’s called copyright infringement.

YouTube has taken its somewhat usable platform and turned it into a joke. YouTube is a disaster if you actually expect YouTube to help you protect your own original copyrighted content. Yes, it does allow someone to download a video you own, upload it and then claim ownership of it.

Let’s keep going. What happens when content ID matches a video uploaded through the meta content management account against a channel? YouTube does several things:

  1. It flags the video on the first channel owner as copyrighted content matched against another channel. Basically, the system tells one channel that another channel has claimed ownership over that content even if the claim is false (we’ll come back to false claims).
  2. It allows the alleged ownership claimant to monetize the video (even if they do not own the content).
  3. It allows the first channel owner to dispute the copyright claim, remove the video or leave it up (depending on how the content ID matcher is used).
  4. If the content owner claims exclusive content claims on the content, the content on the first channel can be taken down or deleted.

Disputes

Here’s where the entire system falls apart. While YouTube can match content fairly rapidly, filing a dispute can take days, weeks or sometimes months to resolve. All the while the content is in dispute, YouTube allows the claimant access to monetization over the content in question. Here’s the bigger rub (as if monetizing content you don’t own isn’t big enough).

False claimants are never at all verified by Google. YouTube’s content ID matching system assumes fair play by those approved to use it. That is, people who create meta content accounts are on their honor to upload content that they actually own. In fact, this isn’t happening. While legitimate usage of this system is happening by big content providers, many lesser channels have learned to game the system to claim ownership over content they don’t rightfully own and don’t have the rights to monetize. This is especially true for channels outside the US (i.e. Russia and Vietnam) where copyright rules don’t apply in the same way as in the US. This ridiculous YouTube help article which discusses setting up a meta content account states:

“Content ID acceptance is based on an evaluation of each applicant’s actual need for the tools. Applicants must be able to provide evidence of the copyrighted content for which they control exclusive rights.”

Yeah riiiiiight. Content evidence of what exactly? Copyrights, especially on YouTube are nebulous at best. What are you expected to show, the camera it was created on? How does that prove anything? There’s no way to know that any particular video was produced on any particular camera. YouTube doesn’t show camera EXIF information in the video’s metadata.

Copyright Basics

US Copyright law states that as soon as a work is created, you are automatically the owner of it and possess all worldwide copyright ownership to this work in perpetuity. This is considered an implicit copyright. You don’t have to do anything other than create the work to own it. This assumes some basics like, it must produced entirely by you on your own equipment and on your own time. However, some countries, like China, don’t recognize implicit copyrights at all. Instead, to protect your copyrights in the countries that don’t recognize implicit copyrights, you are required to fill out forms, possibly pay a fee and likely submit your work as evidence. Only then will your work be explicitly acknowledged by the government to exist and that you own that work.

For example, when you’re using your own personal phone to take video of you playing games at an arcade, this work is now considered fully owned by you under US Copyright Law. The moment the video (and audio) is created, it’s yours. On the other hand, if you are hired as an employee of a production company, and that company owns the equipment and they have hired a camera crew to follow you around watching you play games, you won’t own that video content because the production company paid to create it. Of course, there are pesky things like contracts that can explicitly authorize or deny ownership of copyrights to any party involved in a production. So, if your content is created under a contract, you should read your ownership rights carefully. Just because you were involved in a production, doesn’t necessarily mean you have any copyrights to that material.

Evidence of Copyright Ownership?

In this day and age of immediate gratification, YouTube content owners rely on implicit copyright ownership protections to allow their channels to exist. That is, as soon as the content is created and edited (implicit copyright ownership), it’s uploaded to YouTube.

In the case of copyrights, how can anyone sufficiently provide ‘evidence’  over any content? What kind of evidence does YouTube expect to see? The camera it was shot on? The recording studio that it was recorded at? A bill of sale? Seriously, how can you possibly provide ‘evidence’ of ownership for copyrights?

The only way to provide even the smallest amount of evidence is to submit your work to the U.S. Copyright Office for registry. Let’s understand why this is not exactly feasible for most YouTube content. At the moment of this article…

  • It costs $35 to register a single work (one poem, one video, one work of art).
  • It costs $55 to submit multiple works together (a collection of poems, videos or songs).
  • Who knows how long it will take the copyright office to actually register them so that you have ‘proof’.

Sure, while you could do this to, ahem, protect your works, it’s expensive and what exactly does it do for you? The Government won’t stand up on your behalf. The copyright office is merely a registry, not a legal team. They won’t help you protect your content, that’s your responsibility to find a lawyer. It’s also not like Google will get involved in copyright disputes either. For the prices listed above, that would cost $35 for every single video you upload to YouTube and that only registers your work in the US, not necessarily in other countries. It doesn’t give you any specific legal protections other than someone can go look it up, like Google. You may be required to register your content in many different countries to protect your rights in those locales. You’re also responsible for hiring a lawyer to protect your content (regardless of whether it’s registered).

Google and Copyright Disputes

Google outright states they do not get involved in copyright disputes. Yet, by providing a content ID system, content matching and marking videos in YouTube as being claimed by another channel, this absolutely, most definitely is the very definition of getting involved.

If you don’t get involved in copyright disputes, you don’t create controls to help manage disputes. Meaning, it’s entirely disingenuous to create a copyright dispute system and then when someone disputes a claim (that your system sent us notification) state that you don’t get involved. You can’t claim that. You already ARE involved by providing the notification system.

Worse, once you begin the dispute process, Google’s YouTube team doesn’t care. They don’t actually attempt to review the content, the owners or anything related to the dispute at all. They just let the two parties fight it out even if the content isn’t owned by either of them.

Content ID System is Half-Assed Designed + False Claims

Google’s YouTube team got this content system just far enough to make Hollywood and the music industry happy because they can kill content on channels matching their own content catalog. Yet, Google never brought it far enough to actually prevent scammers from abusing it. Instead, Google lets random scammer channel owners run roughshod all over YouTube’s other channels without any consequences. I’ve seen scammer channels claim false copyrights over multiple legitimate channels (even my own) using content that they clearly do not hold copyrights over and yet those channels STILL exist on YouTube. Google does nothing about this. Why was this channel not closed? Clearly, these scammer channels have willfully violated copyright laws using YouTube’s woefully under designed crap of a content detection system to facilitate these false claim(s).

Claiming false copyright ownership over content is, in fact, copyright infringement and very much against copyright law. However, because most of these scammers are outside of the US, Google won’t do anything… not even close the scammer’s channel. Though, sometimes Google will close the legitimate channel and leave the scammer operating. That false claimant had to copy and upload that content to YouTube’s matching system which, in itself, is a violation of copyright laws. This means that Google’s content ID system facilitates false copyright claims and makes Google an accessory to copyright infringement. Google allowed the copyright infringement to take place and allowed the fraudulent claimant’s channel(s) to profit off of that infringement. This is a legal situation just waiting to happen.

Google, fix your shit. YouTube is quickly becoming an unusable mess of a video sharing platform and is now just one big lawsuit waiting to happen against Google. A lawsuit against Google for not only being an accessory to copyright infringement, but providing a service that actually enables copyright infringement in a system that’s supposed to prevent it. Ironic. Such a lawsuit, if won, might ultimately be the end of YouTube.

If you’re an IP lawyer reading this and you would to have a discussion about this situation, please leave me a note on the Randosity About Page.

Rant Time: Google should stop producing Chrome

Posted in botch, business, Google by commorancy on July 7, 2015

I’m all for browser competition, but only if the organization that chooses to produce such a browser actually takes it seriously. Enter Google. Google’s initial motivation for producing the Chrome browser was all wrong. Instead of wanting to produce a browser because they wanted something technologically better, Google’s reason for producing Chrome was to facilitate their advertising initiatives and agendas. Google should stop producing Chrome. Let’s explore.

What is a browser for?

A browser’s number one reason to exist is to render web sites. That’s the single solitary reason a browser exists. Everything else is just bells and whistles. But you might say, “Well, Chrome does that.”. In fact, it doesn’t. There are many sites I’ve recently visited in Chrome 43 that don’t render. I have no idea why and I really don’t care the reason behind its failure. I just want to know that when I visit a web site that the browser will render it. For example, the same web site that produces a white page in Google Chrome produces a rendered page in Firefox. It’s clear, Google doesn’t care whether or not Chrome works.

Does Google Care?

It’s clear, if you visit the bug reports pages for Google Chrome, there are ‘low hanging fruit’ bugs that haven’t been touched for years. Google doesn’t care. They don’t care if the browser is half-assed. They don’t care that pages don’t render. They don’t care that when the pages begin to render, they show all manner of ugly gobbledygook just prior to applying the CSS… and, in some cases, even fail to apply the CSS.

Oh, Chrome didn’t start out this way. No. It started out as a fast browser with independent sandboxed processes. What it has devolved into is nothing short of a dictatorial memory hog of disaster.

“Automatic Updates are nice”, you say.

Yes, they are, until you realize you still have to restart the whole browser. Whatever happened to the initiative of incremental component updates that didn’t require a browser restart? Well, that clearly never materialized. Worse, when the three line menu bar starts to turn colors (green, then yellow, then orange, then red), that’s just the kiss of death for Chrome. The point at which the bar starts turning color, you might as well restart it. If you don’t, Chrome’s developers intentionally and randomly begin breaking web sites until you do.  So, until you update, you can expect that some sites won’t load at all, won’t load correctly, or won’t work once loaded. And, this is intentional. It’s a gentle nudge (albeit, stupid) by the developers to force you to update your browser.

Worse, and as the color begins to change, the frequency of the breakage increases. I just don’t get this one at all. Why would you intentionally hobble the user’s browsing experience? But then, not actually just ask the user to update? Seriously, if you want the user to update, just present a notification panel that says, “The browser requires an update, restart” and force the user to restart. Don’t randomly stop parts of the rendering code from working and assume the user will take the hint. Just force the restart on the user… it’s a much more sane experience.

Broken renderer

And the crux of this whole thing is Google’s lack of seriousness (and experience) in producing this browser. As long as Google’s sites work, that’s all that matters to the Google. If you visit some other random site and it doesn’t work, Google doesn’t really care. They might or might not fix it if you report it. Oh, sure, they offer a place to report it, but it’s clear. No one really looks at these. There are bugs outstanding that haven’t been touched for years. So, don’t expect your bug report thrown into the ether to actually be touched in any timely fashion, if ever. Which comes to…

The Wrong Motivation

Netscape was formed to produce a browser. That was the reason for Netscape’s existence. Their commitment was in producing the best browser possible. However, Google’s motivation to produce Chrome was not from the goal of producing the best most compatible browser. No. Google’s motivation was to produce the best experience for displaying its own advertising and search content. If showing Google sites is the only metric by which to assess success of Chrome, then I guess it is a success. But, the rest of the browser experience is a failure.

Failures such as being unable to properly play flash content, failure to play Silverlight content at all, restrictive and unnecessary security ‘features’ and overreaching and heavy handed security tactics. Chrome is not about producing the best browsing experience, it’s about producing a browsing experience that Google mandates on you. In other words, if Google doesn’t approve of the site, then you can’t visit it. That’s not for the browser creator to decide.

A browser creator should remain entirely site neutral. If the user wants to visit a so-called malicious site, that’s their choice. If a user wants to visit any site, Chrome should dutifully render it regardless. Google’s involvement in the Chrome browser should be to produce a browser that ‘just works’. Not a browser that ‘chooses to work’ at some Google employee’s whim.

Technology Enhancements?

As lofty as Google’s initial engineering goals were for Chrome, that whole pretense has been completely dropped today. There have been effectively no browsing experience improvements to Chrome since its first year of existence. Yes, the version number has increased to 43, but there has been little change with each successive update. Oh, they’ve improved the extension system, but not to the point that enough developers take advantage of it. Yes, there are quite a number of extensions that exist, but still no where near the number that exist for Firefox. But, extensions aren’t the reason to use a browser. Sure, they’re niceties, but the reason a browser exists is to view the web. If a browser can’t even fulfill that basic function, what use are extensions?

Technologically, Chrome has also gotten worse over time. The whole browser is predicated on memory use (and lots of it). So, if you want to open 50 tabs, expect your browser to consume 12G of memory or more (depending on the sites you visit). With Firefox, this browser might consume 1-2G of RAM or less. I have no idea what Chrome is doing internally here, but whatever is going on is not right. There is no reason a browser should consume 12G of RAM under any circumstances. Effectively, the only relevant tab is the one that’s visible. This is the ONLY tab that should consume any active RAM (or any tab playing music). The rest of the tabs should be paged out of RAM freeing that memory. Which leads to the horrible tab system…

Tabs?

The tab system in Chrome is not only antiquated, it’s one of the worst implementations of tabs I’ve seen. At this point, I’d even call it broken. Not only do the tabs get progressively smaller as more are opened, there’s a tiny X on every tab to close it. Again, the only tab that’s relevant is the tab that’s visible. All other tabs are there for recall only. This means that the tiny X should not be visible on any tab but the active tab. If the tab is not actively focused, then the X should disappear. Removal of the X means no accidental way to close a tab on activation which does happen in practice far too often. The X should only reappear only when the tab comes into focus, but after the tab has been clicked.

Worse than the usability issues I just mentioned, there is no way to search through the active tabs that are opened. When the tabs get so small you cannot even see the icon, then you don’t even know what’s in the tab. So, the only way to find what tabs you have open is to search. Yet, Chrome provides nothing here. Firefox is at least aware of what tabs you have opened. So in Firefox, if you attempt to open a site that already exists in an open tab, Firefox will at least go to that tab. In Chrome, there’s nothing. Chrome happily lets you open yet another tab for a page you already have open, consuming yet more memory.

Chrome and its Future

It’s clear, Google is not serious about making Chrome better or more usable. Instead, it’s worried about making certain security obsolete to its own detriment. For example, Chrome developers removed certain key SDK features preventing Silverlight from working. Oh, I’m sure those software engineers would argue, that’s our right. Oh, I’m sure that it is. But, removing a key SDK feature that also eliminates a necessary browsing experience is not smart. It’s especially not smart for a browser that needs these features to stay relevant in an ever competitive browser market. I’d call this self-obsolescence.

When other browsers continue to feature this functionality and Chrome doesn’t supply an alternative, this is just stupid engineering design. It’s one thing to replace an SDK feature with a new one that’s compatible. It’s entirely different to remove SDK features that render certain features unavailable.

For example, because Amazon relies on Silverlight for its Prime TV experience, Google’s removal of the key SDK feature that allowed Silverlight to work means no more Prime TV on Chrome. This effectively says Chrome is no longer useful at Amazon. Meaning, if you want to use Amazon, you might as well switch back to Firefox. I ask Chrome developers, “Is it really a good idea to force users away from your browser?” Are the developers really stupid enough to believe that Prime users will ‘live without’ watching Prime TV and Movies and still continue to use Chrome?

Nails in the Coffin

It’s these stupid decisions by Chrome developers that really make no sense. Is it really the wisest of decisions to lock out web sites because your engineering team says this is what should happen? No. It isn’t. It also isn’t for your engineering team to decide. A browser is desgined to be flexible and expandable, not to offer limited browsing experiences. Chrome shouldn’t dictate which sites are ‘allowed’ by making wholesale changes that prevent sites from loading. Instead, Chrome needs to become open and flexible, not closed and unusable.

This software should let the user decide his/her browsing experience. If that leads the user into a trap that gets their computer infected, that’s not the browser’s fault. You can only prevent the user from their own folly for so long. But, the browser should remain neutral at all times. It should offer and allow all commonly used features, tools and protocols (whether they are good, bad, old or new). Who cares that SSL3 is old? Taking it out of the browser entirely will break user experience. It should never be taken out, but it can be set as a user preference to allow or disallow usage. If the user chooses to disable that protocol, that’s the user’s choice. It should never be a blanket choice dictated by the Google engineers.

It’s these stupid global wholesale decisions by the Google engineers that will make Google Chrome a thing of the past. Eventually, Google will become so constrained and so impossible to use that everyone will have to switch back to another browser. We’re quickly approaching that crux point… especially with removal of ‘insecure SDK’ features that remove key features like Silverlight.

No, I am not necessarily a fan of Silverlight, but I do want to be able to use it when sites need it. If Chrome simply can’t even support this most basic of uses, then what’s the point in using Chrome?

Chrome’s Dictatorship

It’s really surprising to me that Chrome’s developers are just pretentious enough to think they can dictate exactly how sites should be built. Meaning, when Chrome engineers remove SSL3 and other ‘weak protocols’ from browser support that these engineers think that sites will be forced to update the outdated protocols on their sites for Chrome. That’s a double edged sword. Chrome doesn’t yet wield enough power as a browser to make that unilateral decision. Oh, the Chrome engineers think that Chrome’s brand is that powerful, but I’m here to tell you it isn’t.

Chrome cannot and should not attempt to dictate what is ‘acceptable’ browser standards. That’s for the W3C to state. If a site chooses to use SSL3, that’s their choice, not Chrome’s. The only thing that removing these ‘features’ from Chrome will accomplish is to make Chrome itself less relevant. In other words, the more of these items that are removed from Chrome, the less reason there is to use Chrome. Sites have no obligation to support Chrome’s browser standards, especially when they become overbearing and unnecessary.

Overall

I am quickly coming to the conclusion that Chrome has outlived its usefulness as a browser. On my notebook where RAM is limited, I’ve already moved back to Firefox which consumes far less memory. On my home system where memory is a little more abundant, I’m still using Chrome. But, there are times where I want to watch Prime TV on Amazon and have to switch to Firefox. Because I’m tired of running multiple browsers and dealing with Chrome’s dictatorial approach to browser engineering, I’m about done with Chrome.

Eventually, more and more users will wake up to Chrome’s lack of basic features, such as viewing Silverlight content. I’m surprised that Chrome developers haven’t stopped Flash from working. That’s probably coming. That would be the ultimate nail in Chrome’s coffin. Once that’s done, Chrome is all but a thing of the past. For me, that day is already here. Bye Chrome.

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