The DMCA 512 safe harbor provisions are a piece of legislation intended to, “[limit] the liability of the providers of on-line services for copyright infringement by their users(1).” EFF reports this law has been used maliciously to (temporarily) remove official John McCain campaign videos from YouTube.
Essentially, anyone claiming to own the rights to a particular video can at least temporarily derail the content. This is due to part of the DMCA that requires service providers (web hosts, video hosts, etc) to immediately and temporarily take down a video as soon as a copyright complaint is made against it. The intent of this portion of the DMCA is to shield service providers who may be hosting infringing material.
Here’s an example of how it works: Viacom can file a claim when they find an entire episode of the Real World on YouTube. Upon receiving the claim, YouTube must immediately remove the video in question for a minimum of ten days. The video poster also receives a message allowing them a chance to respond. If the claim is disputed, the poster can file a counter-claim and the video in question will be made available once again, after the ten day period passes. Any further dispute over that particular video must be settled directly by the claimant, counter-claimant, and court. This procedure allows YouTube to avoid liability for infringing material hosted on their servers
However, this system has a fatal flaw, in that anyone can make a bogus claim against a piece of legitimately posted media and have it removed for a minimum of ten days. If no action is taken to counter the request, the material will be offline indefinitely. A DMCA request can be sent from anywhere in the world and can easily be spoofed by a malicious party. This loophole is especially significant for activists, politicians, and journalists who may be posting extremely time sensitive material.
The McCain takedowns certainly aren’t the only case of DMCA takedown abuse — opponents of the Church of Scientology have been barraged with totally bogus takedowns that were orchestrated by a subsidiary of the CoS.
Another example: the city of Blackwell, Oklahoma issued a takedown notice against a YouTube video depicting a city police officer macing a man seated on the driver’s side of his car. The video was obtained by the man’s family through the state’s open-records law. No matter the details of the conflict, the video was clearly fair use and was unlawfully taken down at the request of the city. These stories are just a few of many — DMCA takedown requests are extremely easy to make, and if made pseudonymously, they are great tools for overt censorship.
The McCain camp asked for special treatment of the campaign videos, but the request was shot down by YouTube yesterday. The DMCA is a knife that can cut both ways, as John McCain, Obama supporters, and political activists from all camps have seen. The real way to solve the problem is changing the DMCA itself; namely, removing the mandatory ten day waiting period and allowing counter-claimants to immediately restore their media.
(1) DMCA, Wikipedia