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YouTube’s flawed copyright ID system targets gamer—for using his own video

YouTube’s new content ID system is proving to be really bad at IDing content.


Aja Romano


What do you call a copyright infringement-sniffer that can’t sniff out copyright infringement?

One game programmer is calling it ridiculous after YouTube flagged his own game. Apparently under YouTube’s new copyright implementation, it’s possible to infringe yourself.

Earlier this month, users noticed that that YouTube had begun cracking down on copyright claims across the site using Google’s content identification system, Content ID. The new restrictions, dubbed “Copyritpocalypse” by some of its angry victims, seems to rule that any use of infringing content is off-limits, regardless of how brief the content appears in a video—or how fair its use. The sweeping content bans hit the gaming community especially hard, and even a top-50 YouTube channel, WatchMojo, was temporarily deleted due to the sensor’s apparent inability to detect when copyrighted clips are being used in ways that don’t actually, er, infringe copyright.

Now, one gamer has pointed out the inherent absurdity in what seems to be YouTube’s new policy of flagging first and asking questions later.

Brian Picchi was bemused on Sunday when he realized that YouTube had flagged multiple videos on his channel. But one especially stood out: a gameplay video he’d done for Surfshooter, a small old-school computer game created for the Apple II (remember those?) and designed to be played using a joystick.

What made this particular video an illustration of the pitfalls of YouTube’s copyright policy in implementation, however, is that Picchi actually wrote the game.

“I actually programmed it line by line in AppleSoft BASIC, so nobody else in the world has rights to it except me,” he explained, noting that he found the flagging “hilarious.”

Surfshooter is a whimsical take on old-school Atari and other early 8-bit computer games. Picchi programmed it last year as part of Retrospectiva’s 8-bit coding and digital art competition.

Though YouTube’s efforts are new, companies have long been grappling with the issue of balancing the ease of automatic copyright detection with the inability of an automated system to detect extenuating circumstances. During last year’s Hugo awards, a much-touted livestream of the event was cut off when Ustream’s content identifier sniffed out copyrighted clips of television shows which had been nominated.

Picchi said that he had been unsuccessful in contacting YouTube to determine how and why their content ID system flagged the video, and what mysterious rightsholders YouTube claimed to be representing, apart from himself.

Given the 90,000 views Picchi’s video has received in the two days since it was uploaded, it seems he’s not the only one who’s waiting for answers.

Screengrab via YouTube

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