Copyright vs. The Desktop Regulatory State: Online Communities Strike Back!

The Bible Reloaded is a Youtube channel, in which hosts Hugo and Jake review films, kids shows, religious comics and more from an atheistic, secular humanist perspective. Their work tends to be humorous and the targets of their criticism are often religious films. They watch these Mystery Science Theater style and comment on bad acting, low production quality or mixed up moral messages. On August 21st, the duo posted a review of the film Audacity by Christian evangelist Ray Comfort. The film, in short, encourages anti-gay Christians not to compromise their bigotry.

Comfort, who is most well known outside of religious circles for arguing that Bananas prove the existence of God (in part because of their pointed tip for “ease of entry”), also has a reputation for using copyright claims to take down works criticizing his output. The intended purpose of copyrights and patents, namely suppressing competition through the creation of government granted monopolies, is harmful enough. However, the use of intellectual property laws also serves the devious purpose of stifling free speech and criticism, as seen in Comfort’s case. Jake and Hugo knew this when making their review, and they took the precaution of using hand-drawn images and stock photos instead of visuals from the film. They explicitly state this at the beginning of their review, and note that while their usual technique of using film clips for a review is protected under the fair use doctrine, it is simply not worth the risk associated with being accused of copyright infringement.

This is particularly important for YouTube users. YouTube deletes channels that receive three copyright strikes, effectively meaning a loss of income for content creators. Even a single strike revokes a channel’s live broadcasting privileges and its ability to post videos over 15 minutes long. YouTube takes copyright claims seriously, and they can hardly be blamed as copyrights are enforced through government coercion. Unfortunately, anyone can file a claim against a YouTube Channel, and the company largely treats the accused as guilty until proven innocent.

Ray Comfort’s company Living Waters Publications chose to make a Digital Millenium Copyright Act complaint against The Bible Reloaded’s review of his film, causing YouTube to take down the video and issue a strike against its creators. Hugo and Jake took to Twitter to publicize the matter. Friends of theirs in the atheist blogosphere such as JT Eberhard of What Would JT Do? and Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist also got involved. As a result, Living Waters Publications received widespread public criticism. To quote Hugo and Jake, “This got resolved pretty much through the community, almost as quickly as it happened.” Ultimately Ray Comfort was contacted and he reversed the claim, stating he did not know why it was filed. Whether he did this out of fear of the legal penalties for making a fraudulent DMCA (perjury), personal benevolence, or simply due to the pressures of bad publicity is open to speculation. Thankfully, it was resolved without the threats of violence that often characterize internet related conflicts.

While the state’s copyright policies stifle the free flow of information and create ugly abuses, closely-knit online online communities allow victims of the abuses to fight back. The relatively free flow of online information does much to keep bad behavior in check. Hopefully this incident will open people’s eyes to the problem with copyright in general, as well as YouTube’s reactionary IP policies.

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