Allyson Townsend, better known to her fans as Ally ASL, made headlines earlier this month when YouTube shut down her account after Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group complained that her videos, which featured Ally translating pop songs by Kesha, Owl City and others into American Sign Language, were violating those songs' copyrights.
Happily, Townsend's account was reinstated this week after intervention from the Electronic Frontier Foundation convinced YouTube and the petitioners to reconsider their positions.
EFF was founded in 1990 as a group of lawyers, analysts and technologists dedicated to keeping the Internet a free market place. Townsend contacted the group for help shortly after her account - spanning 90 videos, thousands of fans and hundreds of thousands of comments - was deleted due to music licensers' continuing complaints.
Townsend was also barred from having any further accounts.
Although EFF didn't bring its formidable legal team to bear in an official capacity, the group's Cindy Cohn told Rocks Off that they agreed to informally contact YouTube due to the altruistic nature of Townsend's work; i.e. bringing music to the deaf and hard of hearing.
Also, Townsend's videos constituted an obvious case of fair use, Cohn added.
Surprisingly, YouTube agreed. Even more surprisingly, so did Warner and Universal.
"The problem is that the various music groups hire zombies and trained monkeys who scour the Internet searching for any use of their licensed material regardless of the context or purpose," Cohn said by phone on Monday.
"Often, this leads to flagged entries and complaints on sites like YouTube that really should have been approached with greater discretion."
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Cohn was quite clear in one regard: YouTube is not the bad guy, and neither are the music groups who complained. The problem lies with the fact that any complaint by a copyright holder or the copyright holder's representative is taken very seriously by YouTube, which often removes the content just to be on the safe side.
And while music groups have a vested interest in shutting down use of copyrighted material that could some way infringe upon their ability to market or sell their product, they are not briefing their hired Web-searchers enough on what constitutes proper discretion. In such cases, the EFF has been able to amicably bring all sides to the table for a mutually beneficial agreement.
"Unfortunately, that rarely gets any press," Cohn said." I know it hurts the people of YouTube I deal with that they never get recognized for using common sense in a situation like this."
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.