Settlement between YouTube and ‘DMCA Extortion Scammer’

YouTube recently settled a dispute with a man who abused the platform’s DMCA takedown system. The defendant in the lawsuit had been repeatedly making false copyright infringement claims to harass and extort money from content creators, threatening them with DMCA takedown notices for content that wasn’t his.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (‘DMCA’) is a U.S. statute that was enacted in 1998 to update copyright law to deal with challenges in the digital age, and to balance the interests of copyright holders, consumers and internet service providers (‘ISPs’). Among other things, the part that’s relevant to ISPs like YouTube is the “safe harbor” provision that protects them from copyright infringement liability, provided they meet certain requirements. Importantly, YouTube has to promptly remove access to the infringing material when it is put on notice (17 USC § 512).

Usually, when a copyright holder finds infringing material uploaded by a user on an ISP, they’ll send a DMCA takedown notice to officially notify the ISP of the infringement. The ISP will then remove access to the copyrighted material, so that they are exempted from liability. In the case of YouTube, removal of infringing material also results in a copyright strike against the user’s channel. Receive three strikes, and the user’s channel could be shut down entirely. One can definitely see how this would put content creators on edge; to have a person weaponise DMCA takedown notices to make false claims to extort money would place their accounts and potentially livelihood at even greater risk.

YouTube’s dispute with this particular defendant was first brought in August under s 512(f)(1) of the DMCA, which imposes liability for damages on any person who knowingly materially misrepresents that material is copyright infringement. What the defendant would do was use false identities to issue takedown notices, then send messages to the users demanding payment in exchange for cancelling the copyright strikes. Notable targets of this conduct included Minecraft gaming creators such as Kenzo and ObbyRaidz.

As part of the settlement, the defendant agreed to pay $25,000 in damages, and he also issued an apology to the YouTube platform and community. While this is a positive outcome in catching out this kind of misconduct, it does go to show how easily the DMCA can be misused for purposes other than legitimate copyright claims. This is something I’ll be touching on as I look into the application of copyright laws to gaming content on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch in my presentation in the next class.

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