The absurdity of automated DMCA take-downs on YouTube has been highlighted once again, this time on prime time TV.
Fox network's popular animated series Family Guy referenced an obscure video game glitch in the most recent episode, showing a relatively long clip of the game glitch in question being exploited by the series' main protagonist, Peter Griffin. However, eagle eyed viewers noted that the particular clip used was first uploaded to YouTube in 2009 by user 'sw1tched'.
With the issue of copyright enforcement on YouTube being heavily debated recently, the legality of sw1tched's original footage (which features copyrighted video game images and music) as it relates to fair use (pointing out a glitch in the game) might have already been the topic of a heated debate, but what Family Guy did with the footage, and what happened next, would border on the absurd.
According to updates posted by sw1tched, neither Family Guy nor Fox, the studios responsible for the show, contacted him in regards to obtaining permission to use the clip. And on top of this, shortly after the episode aired, the original video was blocked on copyright grounds by none other than Fox.
The TV network claimed copyright on a clip that was uploaded 7 years before they used it without permission.
The original YouTube clip is now back up thanks to concerned parties and the Internet public voicing their displeasure at how things unfolded. Even Family Guy's creator and the voice of Peter, his dog Brian and many other characters, Seth MacFarlane, waded in on the issue, eventually intervening to get the original clip back up.
While this mistake is yet another embarrassing episode for rights-holders, the responsibility most likely fell to a computer algorithm, rather than an individual. YouTube's Content ID was most likely the culprit, having been convinced that the original clip contained footage from the aired Family Guy episode, and not the other way around as it should have been.
The error prone nature of automated copyright scanning system is precisely the reason why many want more protection against false copyright claims, despite some rights-holders arguing for the opposite. If their wish is granted, false positives such as this one may become more common, with more lasting effects.