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One of the most popular memes of recent history is being axed by Constantin Films.If you have an Internet connection, you’ve probably seen a parody of the Hitler breakdown scene from the German movie The Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich (aka Der Untergang).
The unofficial rules for this meme are simple: take any issue that irks someone, the more trivial the better, replace the scene’s subtitled translations turning the Fuhrer into the offended party, and voila: hilarity of Hitlerian proportions.
But alas, the movie’s creators are implementing their own final solution. Constantin Film has begun blocking parodies that use the footage be removed from YouTube. Parodies are usually legal according to fair use laws, so many if not all of the removed videos do not violate the law, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Nonetheless, YouTube, which has become increasingly copyrigh infringement-shy in the wake of lawsuits, has a system called Content I.D. that makes it easy for producers to take down many clips that match a fingerprint clip they own.
The Content I.D. filter permits a copyright owner to virtually flip a switch and remove any clips that contain the owner’s property, whether or not the clips contain other elements that make the use legal. EFF notes that this dull blade has been used to take down many legal fair use cases:
Copyright owners have used the system to take down (or silence) everything from home videos of a teenager singing Winter Wonderland and a toddler lip-syncing to Foreigner’s Juke Box Hero to (and we’re not making this up) a lecture by Prof. Larry Lessig on the cultural importance of remix creativity.Two years ago, the foundation called on YouTube to make the Content I.D. system more robust, requiring offending clips to match the both the video and audio of submitted tracks for 90% of the clip. YouTube told EFF they were working on ways to improve, but no significant changes have been put in place.
Users whose clips have been removed can submit a dispute to YouTube and get it put back up. In that case the copyright owner is notified, and, if it chooses, can submit a formal DMCA take-down notice. The user can fight back with a “counter notice” that includes contact information, a signature, and a statement under penalty of perjury that the "material was removed or disabled as a result of a mistake or misidentification." The video will go back up unless the copyright owner decides to sue the user, in which case the video is removed until the case is settled.
It wasn’t surprising that record labels led the charge against copyright infringement, since their business is most endangered by it. If the increasing ubiquity of web-browsing means I can listen to any song on demand on YouTube without the copyright owners’ consent, then I buy fewer CDs and iTunes tracks. But the choice to remove a movie clip parody makes a little less sense. Many folks, present author included, never heard of “Downfall” before the parody clips appeared. Chances of my renting the movie are now much greater.
Then again, copyright infringement just brings out an irrational anger in some people.
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