Imagine you have a great video that goes viral. And then suddenly, it gets taken down for a copyright strike. That can be maddening, especially when your video has no copyright issues. But it gets worse when you get contacted by the culprit who strikes you, and are told that they will remove their claim if you pay up. That’s a new issue hitting content creators on YouTube, who are being extorted to keep their channels in good standing.
“Once we receive our payment, we will cancel both strikes on your channel,” the blackmailer wrote in a Telegram message to one creator who runs a small channel dedicated to Minecraft walk-throughs. “You are free to charge back if we don’t, but we assure you we will. We’ll give you a very short amount of time to make your decision.” – Report by the Verge
According to the Verge, several YouTube creators have been getting telegram messages from an anonymous blackmailer, who has levied two copyright strikes against them. The extortionist states that upon receiving payment, either via Bitcoin or through Paypal, they will remove the strikes.
On YouTube, the copyright system is a three strikes and you’re out affair. If users receive two copyright strikes on a video, Youtube will take down the video. If the video receives three within a three month period, the video is taken down permanently. It also means that the channel will be severely limited in what it can do, including having their monetization privileges restricted until the copyright issues are resolved. Additionally, copyright claims can also pick channel’s pockets, claiming any monetization they could have received.
Now of course, for smaller channels that aren’t monetizing, this isn’t really an issue. YouTube’s latest rules require users to have over 10,000 subscribers, 10,000 views, and over 4,000 hours of streaming success in order to start making money with their channel. Those rules also have to be renewed every year to keep your status.
But for those channels on the cusp, or who have finally broken through the glass ceiling of monetization, they are a tempting target for ill gotten gains by extortion. To appeal claims, content creators must give up personal contact information, which the extortionist may be privy to. “This process has been abused by terrorists and scam artists alike, where they would file a false claim and use the information given in the counter-notification to further harass, blackmail, or continue to threaten the content creator,” writes “Slave W on the YouTube Forums, “and I fear that this situation would apply to me in this case if I began a counter-notification.”
The creators who have been targeted are also saying that they receive no help from YouTube. Slave W above says all he receives when attempting to contact YouTube directly is “request a retraction,” or “submit a counter notification,” which opens the content creator up to direct contact by the extortionist. On top of that, the extortionist can merely reject the request, and even reject the dispute, and then levy another strike, bringing down the channel.
That leaves the content creator with filing a counter copyright notification, which can take months. By that time, all the money and views have evaporated, and the creator has every expectation that their videos will remain taken down. Plus, after three strikes, some users complain that they can’t even submit a counter. So it’s likely their channels are doomed if the extortionist uses retribution to remove it.
To be fair, when the Verge contacted YouTube directly, they appear to have taken action. “We have zero tolerance for the submission of fraudulent legal requests,” YouTube told The Verge in a statement, “so we also terminated the channels that submitted these.” However, it took intervention of the media to get a single channel restored. There are dozens of other content creators complaining on the forums about the same treatment.
The Verge says that YouTube stands to lose more from copyright holders than users who are targeted by them, and as such, they are hesitant to come to the aid of creators, even in bogus situations. Some encourage creators to contact the police, but that represents a low priority crime for them to be involved in.
What a mess. YouTube is so broken. And honestly, from a monetizing/copyright perspective, I don’t think it can be fixed.