Every month, copyright holders and their representatives file massive numbers of requests with YouTube, demanding that allegedly-infringing content is taken down or otherwise dealt with.
These requests can be filed manually or via automated processes, with larger players able to utilize YouTube’s Content ID system. The latter provides additional ease and flexibility, with rightsholders able to choose what action is taken in response to a request, from removing content entirely through to monetization.
While Content ID has its critics, some rightsholders are extremely keen to gain access to the program. Indeed, Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider and a shadowy company known as Pirate Monitor believed that by filing a class action lawsuit against YouTube, the Google-owned platform would bring them on board. That wasn’t to be the case.
Basis of the Lawsuit
Filed in the summer of 2020, the lawsuit went for the jugular. The plaintiffs alleged that YouTube was designed from the ground up to lure in users with the promise of a “vast library” of pirated content and actively incentivizes others to upload more. With this library at hand, YouTube exploits other people’s copyrighted content to generate profit from advertising, the plaintiffs wrote.
Schneider and Pirate Monitor described YouTube’s Content ID system as an insulation mechanism for huge numbers of pirates, allowing them to continue their illegal activity without being terminated under the repeat infringer provisions of the DMCA. With 98% of YouTube’s copyright complaints being resolved via Content ID, the plaintiffs alleged that YouTube had created a two-tier system that essentially “trains” billions of users to upload infringing content.
Crucially, Schneider and Pirate Monitor alleged that due to its inaction and other failings, YouTube should be denied the safe harbor protections offered by the DMCA. But right from the off, the allegations didn’t flow as expected, especially in respect of Content ID. The plaintiffs didn’t want to tear down the fingerprinting system that supposedly enables pirates to escape justice – they wanted to gain access to it instead.
Pirate Monitor – Who?
While Schneider is easily researchable, co-plaintiff Pirate Monitor had no web presence at all when the class action was filed. Unusual, given it was prepared to take on the most powerful, influential, financially secure, not to mention copyright-savvy company on the Internet. It was therefore no surprise when the cracks began to show.
As per the original complaint, Pirate Monitor alleged that YouTube wasn’t being helpful enough when it came to the company’s takedown notices. Pirate Monitor alleged that many film clips, to which it owned the copyrights, were appearing on YouTube and it was extremely difficult to take them down. What Pirate Monitor needed was access to Content ID, the system it had criticized for acting as an insurance wrapper for pirates.
Pirate Monitor ‘Pirated’ Its Own Content and Blamed YouTube
In September 2020, YouTube dropped the bombshell. According to its research, the only ‘piracy’ being suffered by Pirate Monitor was entirely of its own making. YouTube determined that Pirate Monitor and its proxies had uploaded their own movie clips to YouTube and then filed takedown notices to have that content removed.
“Pirate Monitor devised an elaborate scheme to prove itself sufficiently trustworthy to use YouTube’s advanced copyright management tools,” YouTube told the court.
“Through agents using pseudonyms to hide their identities, Pirate Monitor uploaded some two thousand videos to YouTube, each time representing that the content did not infringe anyone’s copyright. Shortly thereafter, Pirate Monitor invoked the notice-and-takedown provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to demand that YouTube remove the same videos its agents had just uploaded.”
Homing In On Pirate Monitor
By last month it was becoming increasingly clear that the lawsuit wasn’t going in the direction the plaintiffs had hoped for. YouTube told the court it had identified the person behind Pirate Monitor, naming Hungarian film director and California resident Gábor Csupó as its operator. Considering his work on shows ranging from The Simpsons through to Rugrats and Duckman, Csupó was now as visible as Schneider, despite the supposed protection offered by his “inadequately capitalized shell corporation”.
YouTube’s response also provided more information about Pirate Monitor’s “elaborate scheme”, identifying by name a person in Pakistan believed to be working with Csupó to manufacture an artificial situation that painted YouTube as a bad actor.
As a result, YouTube demanded a damages award and an injunction against Pirate Monitor and Gábor Csupó but just a month later, Pirate Monitor appears to have had second thoughts about its involvement in the action.
Late yesterday, Pirate Monitor voluntarily dismissed its case against YouTube and owner Google. In the filing at a California court, the plaintiffs explain that an agreement has been reached with the defendants to end the action.
While details of the agreement are not available to the public, a single line in the filing seems to suggest that the balance of power had shifted away from Pirate Monitor.
“No compensation was paid to Pirate Monitor LTD by Defendants [YouTube/Google] in connection with this voluntary dismissal,” the document reads.
With Pirate Monitor and YouTube agreeing to bear their own costs and attorneys’ fees, it’s notable that Pirate Monitor’s claim is dismissed “with prejudice”, meaning that Pirate Monitor cannot return for a second bite at the cherry. However, the matter isn’t over just yet.
Maria Schneider – Facing YouTube Alone?
Another key part of the dismissal is that while Pirate Monitor has stepped aside following its agreement with YouTube, co-plaintiff Maria Schneider seems prepared to go it alone, with the dismissal noting that her claims in the matter (and YouTube’s counterclaims) will remain.
Where Schneider’s claims can go from here is unclear, however. While the vast majority of argument in the case thus far has focused on the claims and counterclaims in respect of Pirate Monitor, Schneider maintains that a number of her songs were posted to YouTube without her permission.
Schneider claims that she applied to gain access to the Content ID system twice but was rejected, so must now “self-police” for infringement instead of enjoying the “automatic and preemptive blocking” afforded to larger rightsholders via Content ID. In January, however, YouTube rejected the notion that there is a legal requirement to give anyone access to Content ID, noting that Schneider already has access.
“No law supports Plaintiffs’ assertion that denying them access to [Content ID] somehow makes YouTube liable for copyright infringement,” YouTube explained.
“Plaintiff Schneider already has access to Content ID through her publishing agent, who has used Content ID for years on Schneider’s behalf.”
The notice of voluntary dismissal can be found here (pdf)
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.