YouTube, Viacom bow to light-sabre wielding defender of online justice
Jedi Knight saves the world
The Register's favorite light-sabre-wielding school board candidate has stared down an army of YouTube-hating Viacom lawyers, defending the rights of internet users everywhere.
Late last month, as reported by The Reg, Viacom put the screws to Star Wars-loving North Carolinian Christopher Knight for posting his own TV ad to the world's most popular video-sharing web site. Yes, he also posted a sliver of Viacom-owned content, but most of the video was his - and he wasn't doing anything Viacom hadn't already done to him. Nonetheless, Viacom ordered YouTube to yank the clip - in which Knight waves a light sabre at federal legislation - and our hero received a digital form letter threatening to destroy his account.
But Jedi Knight filed a counter-complaint, risking a lawsuit from Sumner Redstone and company, and for once, YouTube justice was served. Viacom eventually bowed to internet common sense, and late Tuesday night, the clip was restored. It's a lesson for video and music sharers across the web: When the media giants wave copyright infringement claims at legitimate content, abusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, you have the power to fight back.
We see this as a classic triumph of good over evil, but our hero takes a more modest approach. "I have nothing against Viacom," Knight told The Reg. "We just wound up converging in territory no one had ventured into - and I'm glad we were able to resolve it."
This past fall, as he ran for a school board seat in Rockingham County, North Carolina, Jedi Knight filmed a TV spot in which he promised to protect local children from a metaphorical Death Star. The ad was such a hit on Rockingham TV, he soon chucked it onto YouTube - where it was spotted by Viacom.
Several months after it first appeared on the net, the clip popped up on Web Junk 2.0, a cable TV show from Viacom-owned channel VH1. As the video appeared behind him, the show's host admired Knight's sexual restraint. "I'd actually feel safe with a guy like Chris on the school board," he said. "You know he won't be banging the teachers."
Chris was so pleased, he soon made a copy of his Web Junk appearance and threw that onto YouTube. But it didn't stay there for long. Viacom contacted YouTube, insisting Jedi Knight had violated its copyright under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and YouTube took the clip down. We can mess with your copyrighted stuff, Viacom seemed to be saying, but you can't mess with ours.
"Viacom says that I can't use their clip showing my commercial, claiming copy infringement?" Jedi Knight told us last month. "As we say in the South, that's ass-backwards."
You're on Counter Notice
But shortly after we last spoke to him, Knight had the courage to file a DMCA counter-notification claim with YouTube - something that happens all too rarely on the net, according to Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a big-name digital watchdog.
"Almost no one ever files a counter notice. That's the biggest problem we've encountered [with DMCA claims on sites like YouTube]," von Lohmann told us. "Most people have no idea that right exists."
Plus, in filing a counter notice, you risk a lawsuit. "It can be very intimidating when you're just one guy against a media company. In order to send a counter notice, you have to certify that you believe the take-down was inappropriate - and you have to certify your willingness to be sued."
Knight took a gamble few ever take - and it paid off. Much to the surprise of everyone, Viacom admitted that Knight's behavior wasn't all that different from its own. Of course, Viacom's initial take-down notice was a "bonehead move" - in the words of Fred von Lohmann.
After Viacom's about-face, YouTube didn't just reinstate Knight's clip, it sent him a note saying his account would not be destroyed. As von Lohmann points out, the Google-owned video sharer deserves some praise as well.
"YouTube should be commended for notifying their users when they get take-down notices," von Lohmann continued. "They tell you that a notice has been received, and they tell you that you have the right to counter-notice. Not everyone does that."
So YouTube is the Han Solo of our story. Or is it the Rebel Alliance as a whole? The Ewoks? ®