An Explanation For Why UMG May Be Right That It Can Pull Down MegaUpload's Video [Updated]
from the but it's still sleazy dept
See the update at the end
The legal fight between Megaupload and Universal Music Group keeps getting more and more… odd. After the court gave UMG basically a day to respond, the company filed its response and made a rather surprising point: that a deal with YouTube/Google lets it take down videos it has no copyright over. This seems odd, and lots of people are screaming about some crazy clause that lets UMG censor anyone’s videos. But I think I understand what’s going on here — and it’s a very specific situation, where UMG sorta used a loophole — so read on for the details. UMG is still being questionable, sleazy and short-sighted… but probably legal.
The key part of the company’s legal response likely is accurate and probably kills MegaUpload’s case. There are a few different ways that content can be taken down off of YouTube concerning copyright claims. One is via ContentID, the automated system that matches fingerprints. One is via a DMCA takedown notice. And one is via YouTube’s Content Management System. This last one doesn’t get much attention and isn’t that well known, but it’s basically halfway in between the other two (loosely speaking), granting partners the ability to spot and block videos that aren’t matched by ContentID, but without sending a DMCA takedown. If you’re familiar with the details of the system (which it appears MegaUpload and its lawyers were not), it was actually easy to tell this was a CMS block by the message that appeared on the blocked video. It said “This video contains content from UMG, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.” That’s the message that shows up on CMS blocks. DMCA takedowns say that the video is “no longer available.”
So, on that point, UMG may very well be correct in its filing, that it’s not subject to DMCA sanctions because it didn’t actually file a DMCA notice. This is kind of a weak excuse, frankly, and really calls into question how YouTube’s CMS system works, more than anything else. In theory, this also means that the only retribution that can happen for UMG wrongly taking down the videos of others is that Google cuts them off. But seeing as Google has a big partnership with UMG to build and run Vevo, that’s unlikely to happen. That’s a bit scary, but it suggests UMG more or less has a free pass to shut down certain videos it doesn’t like without much recourse (well, beyond public ridicule).
That said, a part of UMG’s explanation isn’t entirely clear, but I have some guesses as to what happened. UMG claims that its agreement with YouTube goes beyond just copyright, and that it’s allowed to pull videos for other (unnamed) reasons. This is new, in a sense, because YouTube has always suggested that CMS is for copyright issues — and, in fact, the original message on the video, did, in fact, say that it was a copyright issue. YouTube later changed that message to say it was a terms of service issue. And that provides a clue.
I believe that part of the Vevo agreement is that UMG gets to “pull” videos of its own artists from YouTube for the purpose of putting them on Vevo. That’s the intention anyway. I know when Vevo launched, that was part of the deal. All the YouTube videos of UMG artists magically jumped over to Vevo. So, I’m guessing that UMG basically used this loophole, which was supposed to be about taking videos off YouTube for the purpose of putting them on Vevo, and realized it could just “take the videos off YouTube” as long as they had UMG artists in them, without ever putting them up on Vevo.
In other words, due to the specific nature of the Vevo agreement — which was intended to move videos from YouTube to Vevo — UMG can pull videos that show its artists off of YouTube. Of course, in this case, it used it for an entirely different purpose, which was to try to censor this ad. That backfired in all sorts of ways, and it sounds like YouTube told UMG to knock it off, knowing that this was not the intention of the agreement at all. And, for what it’s worth, UMG has stopped getting the video blocked, and says it will allow it to stay up for now.
This situation is messy and silly, but it seems like an unintended result of contract language over Vevo that UMG exploited. It may be legal, but in the end, it was pretty dumb by UMG. This whole thing, in true Streisand Effect fashion, actually drove a lot more attention to the ad. And even if it was legal, it sure makes UMG look petty and vindictive.
Update: Received a response from a YouTube spokesperson which makes this a little more interesting.
Our partners do not have broad take-down rights to remove anything they don?t like from our service. In limited cases, if they so choose, and based on exclusive agreements with their artists, partners can take down live performances.
That confirms some of what I thought: that UMG does not have the right to take down any videos (as people keep implying), but that it may be able to take down some videos. The new bit of info is that it’s just live performances. So, that would suggest UMG is even slimier. They tried to claim that those video clips of artists in the MegaUpload song were “live performances.” That’s clearly bogus.
Update 2: And… MegaUpload has conceded that its restraining order request is moot, and so the judge has denied it (pdf), while giving the company the right to file for a preliminary injunction and for discovery. So, not much of anything, but the case will likely continue.