These days, consumers seem trapped in the age of the “passive platform.” Hot tech companies like Uber and Airbnb insist their services merely connect providers and customers. However, people who work for or use these platforms are often on their own if liability issues arise. While this approach may cut costs, critics say it jeopardizes safety and shirks responsibilities. Recently, YouTube bucked the “passive conduit” trend by announcing that it would support the legal costs of some YouTube creators.

To remain immune from such liability, YouTube must abide by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which requires them to take down alleged infringements. However, YouTube believes sometimes accusers have gone too far. As such, YouTube has chosen to defend a handful of creators whom the company believed were wrongly accused of copyright infringement. Rather, YouTube believes the disputed works fall within the Copyright Act’s “fair use” provision, calling them “clean” examples. This carve out permits limited use of copyright material for transformative purposes such as parodying, criticizing, or commenting on it. For instance, one video YouTube will defend shows footage from an education hearing in Ohio interspersed with the creator’s commentary. YouTube hopes the initiative will educate users about their rights under the Fair Use doctrine and protect free speech.

Yet the project is not completely charitable; it is also a tactical move to foster brand loyalty with users at a time when various video platforms are proliferating. Moreover, their support is not limitless: YouTube says it will indemnify chosen creators up to $1 million should a takedown notice result in a copyright lawsuit. YouTube’s stance will hopefully bolster free speech principles and deter frivolous infringement suits. However, the company will have to be cautious about the cases it chooses to defend. Copyright law is muddled, and it may be challenging to maintain a consistent brand message when taking on someone else’s battle.

–Kelsey Zottnick



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