If you watched this week's episode of Family Guy on FOX, your inner geek might have perked up when Peter and Cleveland squared off in NES classic Double Dribble, originally released in 1987. Peter, not exactly known for walking the straight and narrow, cheats and exploits a glitch that lets his player hit three-pointers with every throw.
FOX lifted a clip of Double Dribble from a YouTube video uploaded in 2009. Then, after the episode aired, FOX complained to YouTube that the clip infringed on its copyright. YouTube responded by pulling the clip.
It's a blatant example of a wrongful takedown, and Torrent Freak decided to call them on it. Members of the site reached out to Fight for the Future CTO Jeff Lyon, who happened to have just watched the episode.
"It’s most likely that this is just another example of YouTube’s Content ID system automatically taking down a video without regard to actual copyright ownership and fair use," Lyon said (via Torrent Freak). As soon as FOX broadcast that Family Guy episode, their robots started taking down any footage that appeared to be reposted from the show — and in this case they took down the footage they stole from an independent creator."
Lyon's response highlights and obvious problem with automated content ID systems: they're programmed to react rather than do its homework. The code has no way to know sort out fair use from copyright infringement.
In effect, anyone could exploit YouTube's and similar content ID systems by filing a copyright claim and having a piece of content they want to use taken down. FOX didn't begin airing Family Guy until nearly 12 years later, so clearly they don't own the rights to Double Dribble.
But the onus of proving ownership falls on the creator. According to Lyon, "Creators are discouraged from filing counter-notices to stand up for their work, facing lost revenue and permanent bans from online platforms. This erodes fair use and free speech on the Internet."
Take Down Abuse recognized that FOX walking away the victor could set a dangerous precedent, and created a petition to help spread the word that DMCA takendowns are riddled with loopholes. "There should be strict penalties on false takedowns to protect fair use. Don't make the DMCA even worse by implementing a "staydown" rule that turns web sites into copyright cops."