Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we all had it wrong. When Universal Music Group censored Megaupload's star-studded promo video, it didn't send a DMCA request at all — rather, the company reached right into YouTube's content management system (CMS) and removed the video all by itself. According to a letter from UMG's lawyers, the music label has a special agreement with YouTube that allows it to directly remove content even when it doesn't infringe a copyright it holds, and they claim that UMG used YouTube's own content management system to pull the video directly rather than send a takedown notice.
Now, you're probably thinking that it seems a little crazy that UMG would have that kind of power — and we don't disagree — but according to lawyers, Universal is willing to let the courts decide that, and has been since the first (and only) time it used the CMS. You see, even though we all saw Megaupload's video repeatedly taken down and Tech News Today's news report censored as well, UMG lawyers claim that's the work of a "reference file" created when the original video was pulled, and that YouTube's automated removal process is responsible for all the other removals we saw. UMG says that after Megaupload disputed the removal, YouTube agreed to remove the reference file, and from now until the conclusion of the legal process, neither UMG nor YouTube will be censoring the video anymore. For its part, Google told Techdirt that UMG and other partners "do not have broad take-down rights to remove anything they don't like from our service," so hopefully UMG's actions were an anomaly here.
For now, we'll just wonder why Google would let an outside company have that kind of ongoing access to YouTube, and what it means for the freedom of speech when an automated system can (even briefly) remove references to material that might otherwise qualify for Fair Use. Read the whole letter for yourself at our source link.
Update: Ars Technica has a new, more specific statement from Google that suggests UMG may be exaggerating its rights here: "Our partners do not have the right to take down videos from YouTube unless they own the rights to them or they are live performances controlled through exclusive agreements with their artists, which is why we reinstated it," a rep wrote. We'd love to know what, specifically, YouTube originally agreed that UMG could do.