When property holders find copyrighted content on YouTube, they can send in a request to the site to have the video investigated. This begins an automated process in which the video is scanned for the copyrighted content in question. If and when that content is found, the video is taken down and/or de-monetized, and the channel receives a copyright strike. Three strikes, and the channel is suspended. This might sound like a sensible copyright protection system on paper, but there are many loopholes in the system that allow both property holders and complete strangers to grief innocent YouTubers. Strikes can be issued even if no copyrighted content is found, and contesting the strike is an excruciating endeavor. From this legal grey area, a new kind of crime has arisen: copyright strike blackmail.
Several small YouTube channels recently received sudden copyright strikes, shortly followed by private messages from bot users. The message informed the channels that the bot had issued the strike, and would continue issuing strikes until either the channel was suspended or they received a PayPal payment of $300. The channels made appeals to YouTube’s anti-abuse department, but were unable to get through to human operators. After spreading awareness on Twitter, YouTube finally got involved, removing the strikes and reinstating the videos, while banning the bots that sent the messages.
Creators both affected and unaffected by this scammer have expressed frustration with YouTube. Katharine Trendacosta, a policy analyst at the digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Motherboard that she was “surprised it took this long” in regards to scammers exploiting the strike system. “The system is set up to incentivize false reports, and it is so bad at catching them and punishing people for making false reports.”
YouTube is a large site, one that is understandably difficult to regulate. Even so, proper regulation needs to be developed and enforced, or those that use the site to make their living may find themselves either out of a job or under the thumb of a criminal.