This morning at around 1:31AM EST, Curiosity, NASA's latest robotic Martian rover, touched down safely on the surface of the Red Planet's Gale Crater. But video of the historic event, posted to NASA's own YouTube channel, wasn't so lucky. Motherboard reports that about an hour after appearing on NASA's livestream, a video uploaded from Curiosity's control room during the landing was replaced by a DMCA copyright notice, purportedly the handiwork of the site's notorious automated takedown system.
About an hour later, the video was back online. The offending copyright claim came from one Scripps News Service, and it wasn't the first time — back in April, the company had also removed a video of the Space Shuttle Discovery riding atop a 747 as it departed NASA's Kennedy Space Center. According to Bob Jacobs, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, the bogus claims happen at least once a month.
"We’ve been working with YouTube in an effort to stop the automatic disabling of videos. So far, it hasn’t helped much."
"Everything from imagery to music gets flagged," Jacobs told Motherboard. "We’ve been working with YouTube in an effort to stop the automatic disabling of videos. So far, it hasn’t helped much."
The automated process comes from YouTube's Content ID system, which has been the target of considerable criticism in the past. The algorithm has flagged false positives in everything from cover songs (protected under Fair Use) to birds singing in the background of a video. Universal Music's dubious copyright claims on a promotional video for filesharing site MegaUpload have even led to the removal of an episode of Tech News Today simply for including a clip of the ad in their video. But even without automation, bogus copyright claims made the old-fashioned way still overwhelmingly favor the complainant. Motherboard notes the absurdity of YouTube's primary defense against such frivolous claims, a line in the site's copyright claims page which simply states, "Don't make false claims!"
Granted, hiring enough staff to pre-screen the millions of videos uploaded to the site each day would probably cost Google a stack of cash that could stretch to the moon. But still, Jacobs senses that something isn't quite right. "We spend too much time going through the administrative process to clear videos slapped with needless copyright claims," he says. "YouTube seems to be missing a ‘common sense’ button to its processes, especially when it involves public domain material paid for by the American taxpayer."