Viacom Fraudulently Claims Ownership Of Indie Filmmakers' YouTube Clips

Viacom is sending bogus copyright ownership claims and illegal posting notices to independent filmmakers posting their own movies on YouTube. These films contain not one iota of Viacom content. Take, for instance, this lovely short animation, “Juxtaposer,” made by Joanna Davidovich for her senior project. It’s completely her original creation. She has copyrighted it and says that she “only entered into distribution agreements that were nonexclusive.” Yet, the media corporation saw fit to have YouTube tell Joanna, “Viacom has claimed some or all audio and visual content in your video.”

Joanna is, of course, disputing the claim.

The video is still up, but now Viacom gets access to her video statistics. The worst part is the fear Joanna has that something she slaved and sweat over could be taken away from her. “I’m just a scared that my little film will be lost in the shadow of the hulking monolith…,” she wrote on her blog. Also on her blog is a comment by another filmmaker indicating Joanna isn’t the only filmmaker Viacom has fraudulently targeted in this manner.

YouTube used to be cool but the site allowing actions like this show how much it’s become just another co-opted drek-hole… all because they’re too cheap to hire enough people to vet either the uploads or the corporate takedowns.

Below, a screenshot of the creepy and baseless stake-claiming.

Viacom Wants To Steal My Film [Channel Federator Raw]
Juxtaposer [YouTube]

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Insane. Their own cable content is so lame they’ve resorted to theft. Remind me to pull my YouTube videos…

  2. Kos says:

    Copyright Class Action against Viacom? Conversion? Attempted Conversion?

  3. outinthedark says:

    YouTube is ridiculous at the moment…too many of original contributors have been banned/threatened/etc and have since moved to LiveVideo.

    It’s no YouTube but it sure is filled with more content I would rather watch.

    I can stand what’s on YouTube lately…too many PhilyD’s and Hotforword’s…

  4. InThrees says:

    Likely scenario: Viacom has cast a wide dragnet and will intensely investigate the highest traffic videos for infringement that are included in the statistics they get.

    Regardless, this is complete and utter crap. An absolutely original production that has no Viacom-owned elements at all, and they’re claiming it has audio or visual elements that they own. But oh, they’re allowing it to remain up, how nice of them.

  5. Can I “claim” some of their bank account?

  6. copious28 says:

    I think the DMCA needs a retalitory method for this kind of crap. Original content owners should be able to get some sort of claim for FALSE claims against their material.

  7. winstonthorne says:

    The OP should report this as theft to the proper authorities.

  8. allstarecho says:

    They are claiming ownership but allowed it to stay up so they could view and track the public statistics. This sounds like a perfect way for a media/movie company to see what people are watching, and if the stats show a lot, go write a script about it and make a movie.

  9. JustThatGuy3 says:

    Wow, so they erroneously identified her video as possibly infringing, and now have the right to get the # of views! Wow, that’s really awful, because the # of views is super-secret and there’s no way for her to appeal the decision – oh, wait, the view count is right there on the video page, and the link to appeal the decision is right there in the email. Never mind.

    They use software to try to identify infringing videos (yes, it is illegal to post South Park episodes without Viacom’s consent – you may not like it, but that the law), and it’s not totally perfect. Nothing’s been taken down, nobody’s getting sued, really, there’s no story here.

  10. azntg says:

    For the sake of Joanna, I hope she didn’t sample any music/video/screengrabs of something that actually belongs to Viacom in the video (which could happen).

    But with the benefit of the doubt, if this is a case where Joanna’s video is completely original (content, music and otherwise), SHAME ON YOU VIACOM!

  11. Trai_Dep says:

    The OP needs to sue Viacom for… One billion dollars.
    Since, y’know, that seems to be the reasonable price that Redstone places on YouTube clips when the other shoe is on his foot.

  12. JollyJumjuck says:

    DMCA and copyright laws are only suitable when big corporations invoke them. They are, of course, allowed to run roughshod over the little guy.

    /sarcasm

  13. .apostle. says:

    Um, actually, they probably DIDN’T flag this at all.. according to YouTube:

    What is YouTube’s new Video Identification tool?
    The Video Identification tool is the latest way YouTube offers copyright holders to easily identify and manage their content on YouTube. The tool creates ID files which are then run against user uploads and, if a match occurs, the copyright holders policy preferences are then applied to that video. Rights owners can choose to block, track or monetize their content.

    So, it sounds like YouTube’s algorithm is a little trigger-happy…

    -Oh noes, he didn’t call for Viacom’s demise, burn him!!!!-

  14. incognit000 says:

    I can’t help but wonder if someone at viacom has decided to take this battle personally. They’ve decided that YouTube should not be allowed to live, for having the impudence to host South Park and Daily Show clips.

    What next, Viacom claiming that it has all rights to Rick Astley and Rickrolling?

  15. JeffMc says:

    @JustThatGuy3: I think there’s more to it than that. Let’s try this. I hereby claim your house as my own. But it’s cool because I’m gonna let you keep living there. At least for now, when the housing market goes up again I’ll likely change my mind but remember I claimed your house today and no one said otherwise so obviously it’s mine.

    On a more serious note doesn’t the DMCA have some protection against frivolous claims? Obviously I’m not a lawyer but I was under the impression that if I had your website taken down by claiming it had my content on it and it was later proven false that I was liable for something. Anyone know how that works?

  16. @Serenefengshui: Hammer, meet nailhead.

  17. jtheletter says:

    @JeffMc: You are correct about the DMCA having some recourse for false claims. While I am no expert, my understanding is that this comes in the form of perjury: the DMCA takedown notice requires the filer to assert under penalty of perjury that they own the content or are an authorized agent of the owner. Of course, I’m sure the costs to bring that charge to court are well over what a non-corporate entity can afford.

    In this case, however, even this weak protection is lacking since this is Google’s “YouTube Video Identification Tool” system or whatever. Which is probably YouTube’s internal method for identifying and taking down infringements. No DMCA takedown notice is filed when someone uses this tool it sounds like. At least, that is what I think is going on here. Not legal advice/not a lawyer.

  18. teqjack says:

    They (Viacom) need not find much that they can have a copyright claim.

    Remember this?
    *Silence*
    “British composer Mike Batt found himself the subject of a plagiarism action for including the song, “A One Minute Silence,” on an album for his classical rock band The Planets.

    He was accused of copying it from a work by the late American composer John Cage, whose 1952 composition “4’33″” was totally silent.”

  19. Pesti-Esti says:

    @JustThatGuy3: We don’t stand for that kind of reasonableness here! Shoo!

  20. teqjack says:

    VIacom can probably calim copyright to just about anything. Remember this?

    *silence copyright*
    “British composer Mike Batt found himself the subject of a plagiarism action for including the song, “A One Minute Silence,” on an album for his classical rock band The Planets.

    He was accused of copying it from a work by the late American composer John Cage, whose 1952 composition “4’33″” was totally silent.”

  21. drjayphd says:

    So long as they don’t come for Botchamania, I won’t be rioting… yet.


    + Watch video

    Although mercifully, Barsuk probably doesn’t care about my lone contribution… can’t see them getting bent out of shape over a horribly out-of-sync video of one song. :P

  22. bohemian says:

    It sounds more like a cloaked excuse to gather stats and push ads on a film maker’s youtube page without having to gain permission or compensate her.

    The responsibility needs to be on Viacom to prove their claim before anything is done to a youtube page. This is so sad.

  23. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Sic Public Citizen and the Electronic Frontier Foundation on them.
    [www.citizen.org]
    [www.eff.org]

    This isn’t the first time Viacom has done this; they’ve been sued over this very issue in the past:
    [arstechnica.com]

    Looks like they need another legal smackdown.

  24. @jtheletter:

    Assuming you are correct on the fact that DMCA notices are made under penalty of perjury, I believe that perjury is a criminal matter, so you wouldn’t have to pony up for any lawyers to pursue a false claim, but you would have to convince a DA to prosecute (and I doubt the Manhattan or LA County DA’s are going to pursue the cash cow that is Viacom).

  25. coan_net says:

    That would make me mad. It should be Viacom who should be the one to “prove” that it owns the right to something……

    …. not just claim things and leave it up to the other person to prove that Viacom does not have the right to it.

    I’m not sure what I would do…. but I know I would be very ticked.

  26. Charred says:

    No wonder Google’s stock is down.

  27. abelenky says:

    This FAQ about DMCA addresses false take-down notices, and “put-back” notices.

    Specifically, look at this entry which says “If it is determined that the copyright holder misrepresented its claim regarding the infringing material, the copyright holder then becomes liable to the OSP for any damages that resulted from the improper removal of the material.”

    Oddly enough, it seem to only be the OSP (Online Service Provider, YouTube in this case) that can sue for damages… not the content-owner whose rights were violated.

  28. Ass_Cobra says:

    It appears she can resolve this potentially here:

    [www.eff.org]

    It says it’s for DMCA takedowns and I’m not sure that this falls under that specific categorization but it seems like a good place to start.

  29. ravensfire says:

    I read youtube’s Video Identification system faq and it sounds like the system is incredibly stupid (stupid as in requiring no human input, not stupid as in a bad idea). It sounds like what happens is that when a user uploads a video of sufficient length, google runs an algorithm on it that generates a hash code ([en.wikipedia.org]) for that video.

    In this case, the hash code for Joanna’s video closely matched the hash code for content claimed by Viacom. Its not that Viacom is claiming Joanna’s work, its that her content hash sort of matches their content hash so a notification was sent to her. She should proceed with the Video ID Dispute process as normal. If Viacom is still claiming her work after that, she has her copyright and can use that against them.

    This sounds like this is yet another case of bad things happening because humans were removed from the computer decision-making process.

  30. Consumerist-Moderator-Roz says:

    @JustThatGuy3: Your comment is inappropriate; it’s blaming the victim (and being quite patronizing about it too). Read the comment code. Don’t do this again.

  31. Shaftoe says:

    I am a film maker and make something other then for grins I am very careful to get signed releases from actors and seek out bands that want to get some exposure for music or otherwise make sure all content is mine and mine alone. Just like I am sure the woman for the OP did.
    If viacom tried that with me for sure the EFF would be hearing about it. The biggest problem with the knee jerk reactions of huge content owners like Viacom is that if knowone pushes back at them when they bully it will set a very bad precident indeed.
    Say I make a Music Video and it is shown on MTV But I do not give up the rights to the Video They just show it. And I also post it on Youtube.
    Some kid likes the video and digitizes it off of MTV (Logo in lower Right screen) He is in violation. I am not. But what is he in violation of? Making an Illegal copy of a Viacom broadcast. By virtue of them broadcasting my video does not give them rights to the content.

  32. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @ravensfire:

    This sounds like exactly what happened. My assumption is that they use this system to flag and highlight potentially infringing videos, and they want the viewing count to be able to focus the people who check the actual videos on the highly viewed ones, which makes sense.

  33. MrEvil says:

    I watched the whole video. I don’t see or hear ANYTHING that’s been sampled from Viacom’s property. She’s actually quite a talented illustrator and animator.

    She should sue Viacom for claiming her content as their own. Unfortuantely, Viacom has more money than the artist and thus can bribe politicians, cherry pick judges and juries.

  34. InThrees says:

    @JustThatGuy3:

    There IS a story here. Viacom has notified YouTube that this work in question IS infringing on their copyrighted works. Not might be. IS.

  35. She should sue Viacom. I’m sure Google would be glad to provide the lawyers.

  36. varro says:

    An idea for Ms. Davidovich – a British libel suit against Viacom for a reckless designation of her as a copyright infringer.

    After all, YouTube is worldwide, and she has done the animation for the title sequence for the BBC-…, as well as the graphic design for the show’s website.

    Branding someone as a copyright infringer might hurt the television industry’s view of her, would it not?

  37. varro says:

    (Sorry….Ms. Davidovich did the animation for the title sequence for the BBC-3 show “Touch Me I’m Karen Taylor”.)

  38. @varro: Isn’t the UK defamation laws wacky compared to ours, meaning it’s easier to win a case against someone defaming you?

  39. Triborough says:

    This sounds like a perfect case libel suit in a UK court.

  40. chrylis says:

    @JustThatGuy3: No, but somebody should be getting sued… and here’s one more voice hoping that she files.

    What Viacom did was either perjury (if this was a DMCA complaint) or, the “lesser” offense, fraud.

  41. Bauer22 says:

    Wow. You don’t know how badly I want to get everything I can find of Viacom and post it on every site I can post it on! YouTube included. This is just getting out of hand. Screw off Viacom.

  42. WolfDemon says:

    @JustThatGuy3: You sound like you work for Viacom.

  43. Difdi says:

    This reminds me of years back, when TSR (the roleplaying game publisher) went after FTP sites that hosted people’s creations (typically things TSR had no interest in, such as optional game rules for operating an illegal still). TSR made very broad claims, and site owners caved. But some of the takedown notices were fascinating. I remember seeing several that were just screenshots of directory listings. Including the .message file, and pictures of people’s children that happened to be on the same site.

  44. snakeskin33 says:

    “There IS a story here. Viacom has notified YouTube that this work in question IS infringing on their copyrighted works. Not might be. IS.”

    My understanding from reading the actual notice is that it is about eight hundred times more likely that Viacom is using an automated flagging system that threw a false positive than it is that they have specifically set out to try to harm an illustrator chosen at random who has nothing to do with them or any of their content.

    It’s not that this isn’t unfair to her, because it is, and it’s not that this doesn’t mean YouTube needs to fix its matching system, because it probably does. And it’s not that this is her fault, because it’s not. But I suspect this is an automated system goof-up, and what it means is that YouTube needs to stop acting on claims based on an automated system unless it puts in a preliminary step requiring the company to review any flagged content individually before it (YouTube) sends this kind of notice to the consumer or takes the action of sending stats or putting up advertising. An actual human being’s review should be required before action is taken.

    I think the right thing for her to do is dispute the claim and use her case to point out the apparent problem of false positives, instead of spending her money filing lawsuits, which I frankly think will get her treated like a nutter. Remain calm but insistent and point out what’s apparently actually gone wrong, which is an unacceptable substitution of automated judgment for human judgment, instead of arguing about a malicious attempt to steal that they probably aren’t even guilty of.

  45. Bruce says:

    To quote Osmosis Jones, “Well, we’ll go down to the hemorrhoid and get you a good lawyer.”

  46. godlyfrog says:

    This is probably a mistake on Viacom’s part, given their lawsuit against YouTube, but that should not give them any leeway in this case. In fact, it should make the punishment even harsher.

    The fact that the Ars Technica link referenced by Imaginary_Friend says that Viacom would be manually reviewing all content before issuing takedown notices, even though a takedown notice was not issued here, it’s obvious that nobody reviewed it before claiming it. She should contact the EFF, because I think they would love this.

  47. varro says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: Exactly. The burden of proof is on the defendant to prove the utterance was *not* defamatory.

    And since I’m a lawyer only on this side of the Pond, Wikipedia has a brief summary of it.

  48. crankymediaguy says:

    “They use software to try to identify infringing videos (yes, it is illegal to post South Park episodes without Viacom’s consent – you may not like it, but that the law), and it’s not totally perfect. Nothing’s been taken down, nobody’s getting sued, really, there’s no story here.”

    So, you see “no story” in a multi-billion-dollar corporation falsely claiming someone else’s work as their property? You don’t think that it *might* be a wee bit difficult for an independent filmmaker to fight them if they decide to be difficult and refuse to acknowledge their mistake?

    Here’s a wacky thought: why doesn’t Viacom make sure they know what the fuck they’re talking about before they accuse someone of stealing their material?

  49. KashmirKong says:

    Is it possible that one of those distribution agreements was with a Viacom-owned company? That would explain why it got marked by the system.

    For the record, real people scan YouTube for infringing material as well, courtesy of the fine jerks at BayTSP.

    I do find it interesting that Viacom is allowing the video to stay up.

    Also, I’d file a counter-claim immediately.

  50. internetlawattorney says:

    absolutely on board with an amendment to the dmca either implementing statutory damages for false dmca copyright holder claims or requiring websites to perform at least a modicum of due diligence to determine if a copyright claimant is legitimate. i have seen way too many false dmca takedown notices in the last year, this is getting ridiculous.

  51. msbluesky says:

    I’ve had a similar situation come up once. I was a leader of a non-profit organization and we used our logo/design on goods for sale at CafePress (members and supporters could purchase a t-shirt for example with our logo on it). I got a trademark claim from “trademark/copyright protection agency,” which was an outsourced group that apparently many large corporations use, claiming that we were violating a company’s trademark. . .which we weren’t AT ALL. There wasn’t even a resemblance between the claim and our logo. Suffice to say we had a volunteer lawyer write a long and jargon filled letter to the company, mentioning our right to sue for financial damages based on the fact they erroneously forced CafePress remove the products.

    Under the DCMA if a company removes your item/product/in this case video from its website/server/online presence because another company claims the copyright/trademark/et cetera, you do have a right to file for financial damages if you were not violating the copyright or trademark. If the material is never removed from the site (you are just informed and asked to take it down) you don’t have the ability to file for damages, but once it is removed for this cause without your consent (and you are indeed not violating copyright or trademark protections) have at it!

  52. GamblesAC2 says:

    I smell a potential Class-action coming on against Viacom… Can i join!…ooohhh i can imagine it now the whole redstone family (Those spawns of satan) in extreme finacial ruin and of course Viacom an National ammusements getting liquidated….Best revenge ever!

    Wow I sounded creepy there..lol!

  53. brent_r says:

    What I would like to see:

    Class action against Viacom from all of the recipients of their fraudulent claims.

  54. MelL says:

    @jtheletter: I wonder, though, if this might be something she could/should report to the Department of Justice as opposed to doing it herself through a lawyer.

  55. Inglix_the_Mad says:

    @Kos: Copyright Class Action against Viacom? Conversion? Attempted Conversion?

    I dont’ know if this is possible.

    @msbluesky: If the material is never removed from the site (you are just informed and asked to take it down) you don’t have the ability to file for damages, but once it is removed for this cause without your consent (and you are indeed not violating copyright or trademark protections) have at it!

    So I could claim ownership of something of theirs, but never remove it and get away with it? Please. What a freakin’ joke that is.

  56. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @crankymediaguy:

    My point is that she hasn’t suffered damage (no revenue lost), so the aren’t any grounds for a lawsuit.

    Also, for those of you advocating a British libel suit, it might be worth remembering that, while Britain does have lax libel laws, it also has loser pays.

  57. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @WolfDemon:

    Nope, but I sympathize with their efforts to protect their content from being illegally distributed without their consent. If you don’t think it’s a problem that people are illegally downloading Viacom content and/or posting it to YouTube (and they are), then you also shouldn’t think that what happened to the OP is a problem; if Viacom’s copyright is meaningless, then the OP’s copyright is meaningless too, and Viacom should be free to claim rights to the animation, run it on TV, put it on Viacom sites, whatever, all without compensation.

  58. sleze69 says:

    Contact the EFF. There is currently a lawsuit AGAINST a media company for sending a takedown notice over a fair use of a Prince song in the background of a baby video.

    According to the DCMA, fraudelent takedown notices are a nono. She should cash in and teach Viacom a lesson.

  59. johnfrombrooklyn says:

    It’s not like Viacom has an army of trained monkeys watching every YouTube video to see if Cartman is lurking in the background. Viacom sends out these takedown notices based on data gleaned directly from YouTube. So YouTube sent Viacom the wrong data here. It’s ironic that somehow posters feel that YouTube should be able to show free and profit from the millions of dollars Viacom spends to produce content. On the other hand, when an indie filmmaker is presented with a clerical error that could be very easily fixed, the only response is to sue Viacom for billions of dollars. Hypocrisy is a wonderful thing.

  60. quirkyrachel says:

    That’s horrible! And that’s a really cute film, btw.

  61. MrEvil says:

    @johnfrombrooklyn: The problem is is that someone with a bit of grey matter between their ears should double-check Youtube’s data considering the method in which its automatically generated. It’s not that hard to watch the video that Youtube’s system flags as potentially infringing.

  62. mbd says:

    I just watched the film, a cute little animated college film. I doubt anything in is remotely infringing on any Viacom copyright, but this is what God put Lawyers on the earth for. If you are not prepared to protect your copyright, expensive thou that may be, you will loose your copyright.

  63. Slow2Whine says:

    @allstarecho: Exactly what I was thinking. It’s a free way to get statistics on other people’s products. I’m sure Viacom is only targeting people without an army of lawyers since General Electric (NBC) would be up in arms if Viacom tried to do this to them – if only NBC would let their stuff on youtube for more then an hour after posting.

  64. mariospants says:

    so can I make a claim on some Viacom products?

  65. Aisley says:

    John from Brooklyn,

    If I didn’t know better I would say that you’re John from Viacom.

    When you say “… when an indie filmmaker is presented with a clerical error that could be very easily fixed…” What makes you think that the filmmaker did not try to solve “a clerical error” that was not even hers, for starters.

    Also, a company as powerful as Viacom has a very well trained staff to play such a dirty game on a filmaker, but can’t hire a very good clerk? You know what, let’s not go for a “very good” one, let’s hire a decent one. Are you available?