YouTube needs fixin’

One of the big problems with YouTube is that science channels that criticize creationists are often shut down — they are targeted by votebots that lower their ratings, and there are plenty of people who file frivolous notifications of DMCA violations that lead to whole channels being shut down until the case is fought out. This is not good — the system is hair-trigger sensitive to complaints, but does nothing to filter out the noise of unwarranted claims made solely to silence people.

A science regular on YouTube, Andromeda’s Wake, has put up a short video requesting more confrontation with Google/YouTube on the issue of DMCA abuse. The problem has been brought to the attention of Google developers, and there is a petition demanding censorship reform. You should sign it!

(Hmmm…I wonder if this approach would work to get Seed to fix the broken comment registration system here…)


  1. Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom says

    Signed. Flipping hate the abuse of the default reaction to DMCA Takedowns . You could flag one of the speeches Obama put up there himself and it’d likely still get taken down (Exactly once, but that’s besides the point).

  2. Glen Davidson says

    How dumb do they have to be to think that creationists won’t abuse their system, so that they treat all complaints and votes the same across the board?

    Isn’t Google supposed to be filled with super-bright people, and that’s why they’re so rich? Then why don’t they recognize the simple concept that activist creationists are pretty much dishonest to the core?

    Glen D

  3. Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom says


    They know. They’re well aware that DMCA takedown notices are easy to abuse without checking. You can’t know this if you have a legal department. You’re making them care, perhaps by informing them of a particularly bad abuse, but not letting them know that it can be done.

  4. raven says

    (Hmmm…I wonder if this approach would work to get Seed to fix the broken comment registration system here…)

    No. Even prayer and sacrificing chickens hasn’t worked.

    The problems with sciblogs go beyond the registration system.

    The website crashes older browsers. You have to turn off activeX scripting to get it to work and then the rest of the internet gets buggy.

    Some browser aren’t recognized by the commenting system. My one browser that wasn’t crashed gets an “invalid request” message when I hit submit.

    You won’t hear about these problems. That is because the people with these problems….CAN’T POST. It’s like asking a deaf person what is wrong.

    I suspect sciblogs loses a lot of traffic over this. And FWIW, sciblogs is the only website that did that to me. This is a local problem of kludgy software.

  5. black-wolf72 says

    This petition and google appeal was brought to my attention a few days ago, and I promptly put my name to both.

    These complaints have been made by countless individual youtubers for I don’t know how many months or even years, and yet YouTube/Google have completely ignored the issue, to my knowledge without even acknowledging that the problem exists. What they have done is reform their partnership program so that it would become more attractive for companies to use unaffiliated videos as an advertising platform, and the have changed channel layout.
    Protection of free speech in an effective manner was so far no apparent concern of theirs.

    Several people have suggested various other video submission sites for their allegedly superior handling of similar censorship attempts. However, these suggestions were a bit myopic in that they ignored the fact that such abusable policies would be implemented as soon as these sites had any significant user base.

    The interest of people to submit their videos to YouTube and not another site that may or may not provide inferior or superior user friendliness is the size of the potential audience.

    It would be quite bizarre if videos addresing important issues that might not agree with someone’s views on politics or religion would have to be removed to more obscure sites to avoid being seen by would-be-censors.

    Imagine if superstitionists had the power to instantly stop the publication of anti-religious books and simultaneously get the published copies out of store shelves by filing a single complaint to the publisher or the store, regardless if the complaint was truthful, warranted or even filed under a true identity.

    Some people would suggest switching to another, smaller publisher that might not get much attention. Some would likewise suggest selling the books at a small bookshop instead of a multinational chain.

    How wrong can policies get?

    Yes, I understand that they think they must respond to copyright claims instantly. But various methods have been suggested that would not instantly shut down whole channels or flat-out block video access. Especially since these shut-downs are implemented before the validity of the claim has even been established. I’ll stop here, this is getting redundant.

  6. Celtic_Evolution says

    Then why don’t they recognize the simple concept that activist creationists are pretty much dishonest to the core?

    I honestly don’t think such motives are taken into consideration. It’s a user-policed environment that may be well intentioned in principal to prevent actual, legitimate violations without expending an enormous amount of money and resources on policing it themselves. Craigslist uses a similar (although far less complicated) approach.

    The problem is the system is too easy to manipulate and not moderated enough by the folks at Google / YouTube.

    I think there needs to be some accountability for the users filing DMCA notifications. First, they should set it up so that only registered users with valid accounts can file violation complaints. Users that submit complaints found to be frivolous are given a negative “score”. This score should be weighted when the complaint arrives. “Legitimate complainers” are given a higher weight, and frequent frivolous complainers are given lower and lower ranks until their complaints are altogether ignored by whatever system is used.

    Also, ranking a video should only be allowed using bot-proof challenge systems.

    Seems like small changes that could make a huge difference.

  7. Alverant says

    I have to wonder if such tactics have been used against the IDiots and what their response would be if they got a taste of their own medicine.

  8. says

    While I agree with the petition, as a software developer, I hate to see this sort of thing in a bug tracker. Countless “me too” comments in a bug/issue make it impossible to find the actual technical discussion. This is what the vote button (or in Google’s case, the star button) is for, people!

  9. David Marjanović says

    raven, what browser do you use? I have no problems with IE8 for WinXP or Safari 1.3.2 for Mac OS 10.3.9.

    (In case your eyes just popped out, I can’t upgrade my Safari. Only Safari 4 is available at all anymore, and it doesn’t run on 10.3. Upgrading the OS, made ridiculously expensive by Apple, is not included in the French science budget.)

    IE7 got major problems with the sidebars, especially, about a month before 8 came out. Most ads here use ridiculously over-the-top HTML wizardry.

  10. Toffeeman says

    Aren’t bad DMCA notices perjury?

    Shouldn’t YouTibe simply send a sample of the more dodgy creationist claims to the FBI/whoever.

    A few high profile convictions would have a dampening effect.

  11. black-wolf72 says

    Note that filing a false DMCA claim is an offence regarded as perjury, and carries a penalty of up to 5 years in jail.
    But it doesn’t matter to the censors, because all they need is a quickly registered account to a source that is nearly impossible to trace, and a false personal identity.
    They can create as many identities as they wish, on a moment’s notice. With a list of email addresses also created for this purpose, one can register a practically unlimited amount of accounts, even automatically.
    Once the false DMCA is filed and the video in question taken down (note that it will get deleted as soon as more than a few complaints come in), they do the same for the next video (or a bunch at once), effectively getting strikes on the channel that will eventually get the entire account taken down.
    When it is revealed that they had used a false identity to file their claims, it’s too late and they’ve already on a new account. Just getting a video taken down for a few days can cost the creator thousands of views. The same is true for the votebotting scheme, which gets videos ranked too low to come up in search results.
    The users commonly targeted by these frauds have adopted a similar tactic now, creating “secret” fallback accounts to mirror their falsely flagged videos and to stay active and ahead of the censors. This hide-and-seek game will go on indefinitely, to the point of exhaustion of either side, which wont be any time soon.

  12. raven says

    raven, what browser do you use? I have no problems with IE8 for WinXP or Safari 1.3.2 for Mac OS 10.3.9.

    I was using older versions of IE and opera. Netscape was another one.

    I finally bit the bullet and upgraded to IE8, Windows 7, and added a few more gibabytes of RAM. That has fixed a lot of problems.

    Not everyone is going to spend the time or money to do a major upgrade like this. Not for one website.

  13. raven says

    A good illustration of the moral bankruptcy of fundie xians.

    Filing false DCMA claims to censor Youtube.

    Youtube should fix their problems not keep kicking the can down the road. A permanent fix will save them a huge amount of time and money in the long run and increase their traffic. If a website gets a bad reputation, the internet is a big place and people just click elsewhere.

    Sounds like youtube and sciblogs have the same philsophy. If it works half assed and is only broken some of the time, ignore it and hope it goes away or fixes itself.

  14. black-wolf72 says

    Alverant #9,
    some IDists and creotards as well as other religionists have made videos against Islam which have promptly been targeted by censorship campaigns from muslims. So yes, they do know how it feels. The problem is, as I’ve said above, that an unlimited number of sockpuppet accounts can be created to silence the opposition, without touching the main account that stays squeaky clean.
    A few creationists have dishonestly asserted that they had been targeted by censorship from “atheists”, but have never produced any evidence at all, while several creationists or their sympathetic trolls have been caught red-handed because they were too stupid to mask their identity properly and instead bragged about having false flagged atheists. They have no shame, and they don’t even understand why false flagging and DMCAing is not only illegal but unethical. There have been two instances where one of them has apologized publically (VenomFangX and Daniel Owens), in each case only after being threatened with legal action.

  15. Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom says

    Unless there’s case law I’m not familiar with, bad DMCA notices only constitute liability for damages that the bad notice causes. That’s probably a harsher potential penalty then Perjury to an organization attempting to use bad DMCA takedown notices, because it constitutes a real and definable loss to the group, but it’s a lot worse for the alleged infringer because they actually have to do work to get all this back.

    It’s basically an annoyance/endurance fight tactic, and it’s very successful because there’s no real penalty unless the person you’re abusing is willing to dig in and fight every single individual battle. It’s like Lawology except… well, no actually it’s exactly like Lawology.

  16. thomas.c.galvin says

    It must be nice to be able to fall back on a bad law when the facts refuse to support you.

  17. Zeno says

    Google’s motto is supposed to be “Don’t be evil.” They have yet to learn, apparently, that there are sins of omission as well as of commission. Looking the other way while stone-cold bastards assault others with false DMCA claims and votebots is condoning evil. I’ve signed the petition in hopes of getting their attention, but I fear they are looking the other way.

  18. hznfrst says

    You’d think that a website dedicated to science would be better-designed than scienceblogs! I’m using IE7 with XP Pro/SP2 with plenty of memory and processor speed and a high-speed connection, and still get noticeably slow response times from this site, and this site only.

    They have not responded to my emails asking how to fix these problems, and I refuse to give Microsoft any more money even if Bill Gates does manage to cure AIDS in Africa with it!

  19. Kathy Orlinsky says

    This issue reminds me a bit of the libel case against Simon Singh. People don’t like what’s being said and think they have a right not only not to hear it themselves, but to prevent anyone else from hearing it.

  20. abb3w says

    I think there needs to be some accountability for the users filing DMCA notifications.

    One potentially simple solution seems built-in to the US Code.

    As IAmNotALawyer understand, a DMCA declaration must be submitted by affidavit on penalty of perjury. Standard response should include a civil lawsuit over the perjury, with possible additional allegations of attempted civil rights violation (free expression of (lack of) religion). Even a simple “$5000 plus court costs” small-claims scale judgment becoming routine might make most of the abusers hesitate.

  21. CTC says

    Google’s “Do no evil” motto is so full of shit that the Os should be colored brown. I had a GMail account disabled maybe a year and a half ago for no reason; as best I can figure, they objected to the fact that I forwarded nekkid pics of my (now ex-) girlfriend from my phone to my GMail account so that I could offload them onto my computer (mini-SD card never worked, or I’d have used it). I deleted the text messages as soon as I was done, but weeks later, the account went *poof*. No warnings, no prior contact. Just went to the site and it was gone one day.

    And when I tried to contact them about it, I got no response. If you read their policy on account disabling, it basically says, “We don’t owe you an explanation, because you know what you did wrong.” Even though for my part, I still don’t know what was honestly so wrong about anything I did. And if they knew what the pictures were, it also meant *they had to have looked at them.* The whole situation felt entirely Big Brother-ish, and I wouldn’t trust those assholes any further than I could throw them as a result. YMMV, though.

  22. MetzO'Magic says

    abb3w @ 23

    I know where you’re coming from, but the fact is, as black-wolf72 laments, it’s all to easy for the creationists to set up sock puppet accounts that make it extremely difficult for Google to trace and associate with a live, warm body that can be charged and prosecuted.

    Typically, the time and effort required to track these frivolous offenses down would cost a lot more than anybody would be willing to pay for a ‘victimless’ (i.e. no financial losses being suffered just because your amateur anti-creationist video was taken down for a few days) crime.

  23. Spyderkl says

    Signed the petition and added some politely worded smackdown of YouTube. For all the good it’ll do.

    Like I wrote on my comment, it’s not the first time there’s been an uproar over false flagging/bogus takedowns/account harassment. I don’t see YouTube or Google bothering to fix the problem any time soon. Not so much “anti-censorship” as plain old lazy cowardice IMO.

  24. MetzO'Magic says

    Here’s a possible solution:

    1. Takedown request must be accompanied by snail mail name/address (sorry, no P.O. box numbers accepted!)

    2. Google sends snail mail to supplied address: “Did you personally request this DMCA takedown?”

    3. If no reply by snail mail, nothing happens.

    There are possibly ways around that approach, and it slows things down a bit, but many things in the legal world revolve around bits of paper.

  25. Nebula99 says

    Voted and signed, and the numbers are looking good.

    @Spyderkl #28, This is one of the really good uses for an army of internet minions–bringing attention to an important cause. I am hoping that if much of the Pharyngula viewer base responds, the sheer number of people calling for action will make Google/YouTube do something about this.

  26. tsg says

    If I am wrong, someone please correct me, but I was under the impression that there is a clause in the DMCA that requires them to take down a video as soon as they find out it might potentially be infringing in order to avoid liabilities. I seem to remember arguments indicating that this is precisely how the DMCA could be used for censorship. If that is the case, then they don’t have much of a choice.

  27. nastasie says

    What I’m thinking is that it’s kind of sad that our side – the science/skepticism crowd – doesn’t look big enough to make any major waves that would force Google to take action. I mean, there’s a chance Lawrence Krauss’ lecture on cosmology would be taken down if the godbots take notice of it (in it, he says “Forget Jesus, stars died so we could be here”), right? Even though it’s on the RDF channel? Or does it only happen to personal accounts?

    As for signing in, I never have any problems with LiveJournal (on Firefox latest version, Windows XP). I’ve given up on the other ones, though.

  28. chgo_liz says

    Instead of/in addition to Pharyngulating online polls, why not make a point of Pharyngulating YouTube videos with positive votes to counter the negative votebots?

  29. llewelly says

    Note that filing a false DMCA claim is an offence regarded as perjury, and carries a penalty of up to 5 years in jail.

    The bill was designed to make that part difficult to enforce. I have never yet heard of anyone serving any time for filing a false DMCA claim.

  30. LightningRose says

    1) Internet petitions are less than useless.

    a) Because the signatures are impossible to verify no one pays any attention to them. This make the petitions useless.

    b) Because people think they have done something useful, they do not do anything that might actually be useful, such as writing or calling their Senate/Congressional representatives. This makes online petitions less than useless.

    2) Under the DMCA, youTube *has no choice* but to respond to *all* take down notices, and no amount of public outcry is going to change that until the DMCA is amended (unlikely) or repealed (even less likely).

  31. T_U_T says

    there is only way how to get these people to actually do something – make them lose money , or at least make them think they could lose money if they don’t do something.

    I suggest a DOS attack where all videos get attacked by bogus DMCA claims from the most viewed first. After a few attacks, they will be forced to do something.

  32. rozeboosje says


    Thank you so much for helping us. Just to let you know: this initiative was the brain child of a YouTube user by the name of CiphersSon (which is an anagram for CensorShip, btw).

    He approached me to help him get this off the ground. My YouTube username is rozeboosje.

    The response has been overwhelming, but it really took off beyond our wildest dreams when AndromedasWake posted his video, and now this BLOG is simply the icing on the cake so far. We simply cannot thank you enough.



  33. AbdultheImpailler says

    Thank you PZ Meyers for your support in this matter, having some higher profile people such as yourself helping us is what we need, I wonder if Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens would like to help too???

  34. black-wolf72 says

    “Under the DMCA, youTube *has no choice* but to respond to *all* take down notices, and no amount of public outcry is going to change that until the DMCA is amended (unlikely) or repealed (even less likely).”

    I think that is not the point. The point is that they can implement electronic features that would sort out bogus claims by people who do not exist. I do not believe that the DMCA obliges YouTube to take down videos immediately without checking if the claimant even exists. Secondly, the DMCA also does not mandate closure of accounts without explanation by a simple count of complaints without regard as to the merit or validity of these complaints. Furthermore, as has been stated multiple times, YouTube simply does not acknowledge that there is a problem. They take the easiest route because it’s the cheapest route to follow at the moment – which is to presume everyone guilty until that person makes an effort to disprove the charges, possibly involving a lot of costly long distance phone calls (if the person happens to have one of those super-secret phone numbers that YouTube does not provide), and paying a lawyer to make some efforts.
    All of this while the claimant gets immediate access to the full personal data of the accused account owner, while the accused gets nothing at all but an automated reply form.

    YouTube’s experience with this is that most users will simply cave in and leave or create a new account, re-uploading all the content that they may have saved in wise foresight. YouTube’s policy is “we make the money, you do the work”.

    You correctly state that normally it is better to contact someone personally.
    This is not an option with YouTube. They do not provide any relevant contact details whatsoever, except for some impersonal forms that, in the experience of those people who have tried taking that route, get trashed without being acknowledged.

    A few people have obtained some more useful addresses and phone numbers that reach places a bit higher in the monstrous YouTube hierarchy. Unfortunately, YouTube does not permit these details to be published or shared in any way.

  35. says

    I had an interview Behe did on the Colbert Report taken down after it was flagged and I didn’t even use his name in the title or the tags. All the description said was “The Dufuss speaks” And I have several other copyrighted material posted but those weren’t flagged and taken down.

    Probably they have people who do tag searches and then put in the requests as they find them. Kind of like how some people vandalize articles in Wikipedia.

    I notice that some music videos that get flagged have their audio changed to either some generic stuff or silence but the video stays up.

    DMCA puts the burden on the poster not the people asking for the take down. That’s why DMCA was and is a bad law

  36. The effin' bear says

    It would be great if someone tallied the number of complaints made by theists against atheist videos (probably a few hundred per month) and those made by atheists against theist videos (I am going to guess zero).

  37. ernieball says


    Religious people are the only ones who possess a tool with which they can justify immoral or dishonest behaviour and, given the possibility, they can stifle the voices of people who uphold honesty and personal integrity purely on the basis of it being good and a goal in itself. The former have all to gain and the latter have all to lose by betraying these values. Please keep Youtube a fair arena of free speech. (My personal message)

  38. ckitching says

    cadfile, Viacom is more diligent than most at trying to get their property removed from youtube. They even sued Google over it not too long ago.

    Some of Youtube’s actions may be a result of agreements reached with some of the companies that sued it in the recent past. Then there is the DMCA with its onerous notice-and-takedown requirements that mean even a bogus notice forces most companies to take down anything the notice mentions. There is certainly room for improvement, and Youtube could choose to only ban when they get a notice from a known and authenticated source, and only follow the bare letter of the law for all others.

    Perhaps what is needed more than anything is for someone who has received a bogus notice to sue the sender and make an example for all. Sadly, there might not be much money in it, so it might be hard to get lawyers interested in doing it.

  39. sandiseattle says

    signed it.
    Truly wonder what idiots wanted the DMCA. I’ve never heard a single positive thing about the DMCA, and it seems most people don’t like it.

  40. Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom says

    “Truly wonder what idiots wanted the DMCA. I’ve never heard a single positive thing about the DMCA, and it seems most people don’t like it.”

    Let me correct that for you then.

    It means that service providers show no fear in allowing you to post whatever you want. You can argue til the cows come home about how easy it is to abuse DMCA Takedown notices, but the world legitimately needs Safe Harbor if we’re to have user-created content.

  41. billygutter01 says

    I’m delighted that PZ has lent his considerably influential support to the reformation of the YouTube guidelines. This DMCA abuse has run unchecked for long enough, and it’s great that a blog with as much oomph as this one has joined its voice with the legions of disgruntled ‘Tubers.

    Beyond signing the petitions and mirroring the videos pulled down by the….. um…. assholes, there’s little to be done until those enforcing the DMCA grow sufficient teeth to chomp the abusers.

    The pharyngulation.. pharyngulization (sp?) of this problem can only help! Many thanks to you, PZ!

    Casey Kasem moment: Wow, thanks PZ! Long time reader, infrequent commenter here….Could you please play Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger”

  42. alancfa2001 says

    Thanks PZ, for weighing in on this issue. Most people think of YouTube as a wasteland, a forum for self-indulgent teenagers posting nonsense videos. But there are many atheist and science-based channels on YouTube and they are a marvelous resource.

    I am sure that your posting here will help move us towards our goal. As of 11:07pm Texas time, we have 3,133 stars on the Google Issues site.

  43. says

    I do find it funny that VenomfangX – pardon my language PZ, I know swearing is allowed on here but there are limits! – has filed a DMCA notive to drpjones…and emailed him about it…

    I cannot for the life of me understand when after being banned for a year for doing precisely the same thing to Thunderf00t and getting caught on it that he decides to go after someone even more qualified to deal with him – dprjones being more of a lawyer than Thunderf00t!

    Does he want to go to prison or something?

    Petition signed and good luck to all you Youtubers who toil and fight against bloody minded ignorance with your wit, intelligence and reason, I salute you all!

  44. complex field says

    My personal note on the petition:

    In my experience, science is getting a drubbing from religious fanatics. This is especially true in Texas which, because of California’s economic woes, has a disproportionate level of influence on textbook publishers. When it comes to science books, as Texas goes, so goes the US.

    Accessible science videos will be crucial for the foreseeable future and I would like YouTube to remain a viable and reliable source of science content, especially for youngsters.

    Please reform your DCMA policies. They are being abused.

  45. billygutter01 says

    As many of you are aware, YouTube user dprjones has been bitten by the odious little shit, VenomFangX. As a result some excellent videos have been pulled..

    I was able to find at least one mirror of “Why people hate you VenomFangX Pt.1” I snagged it and re-uploaded it to my channel.

    Please understand: I’m not fishing for views, but if any ‘Tubers would like to mirror it, and throw a little “fuck you” at those who would thwart the free expression of ideas, it’s available.

    Thanks again, “Pee-Zed” (Canadian here, what can I say?) for throwing more light on this dark dungeon of censorship.