Alex Mauer Debacle: The DMCA Abuse That Is (and Isn’t) Possible on Youtube

So YouTube has a DMCA problem. We all knew this, since the DMCA itself sucks and YouTube doesn’t have the best track record regarding copyright. But what do you need to know if you’re affected? What’s the long and short of it?

Editor’s Note: I don’t have an editor.

Sir TapTap’s Note: If I did have an editor, they’d probably note that I’ve already written an extensive timeline on the Alex Mauer DMCA Debacle here, so if you don’t know what that is or wish to learn more, start there. This article is mostly about YouTube’s process and it’s problems and solutions, not the Alex case itself.

What’s the Problem, Chief?

 

YouTube’s DMCA/Copyright Strike system is being abused by Alex Mauer.

That’s bad.

But Alex Mauer’s Starr Mazer DMCAs were reversed en masse.

That’s good!

Alex changed to harassing players of a different game and more importantly this sort of abuse could be engendered by almost anyone.

That’s bad.

But Counter Notifications can largely reverse harm by harassing parties!

That’s good!

The Counter Notice contains potassium benzoate (and also expose your real address to a potentially harassing party).

…that’s bad.

YouTube’s DMCA Process

So how does Youtube’s DMCA process, also known as “Copyright Strikes” all work?

First, I’d like to clear up that YouTube’s Copyright Strike system is a DMCA-compliant system. A lot of people say it’s a “fake” DMCA and thus more exploitable, and thus also not carrying penalty of perjury.

That’s not true; YouTube’s Copyright Complaint Form actually specifically mentions that submissions are verified by submitting party under penalty of perjury, and more importantly if they weren’t “real” DMCA takedowns, YouTube’s system wouldn’t qualify for Safe Harbor protections.

Youtube's DMCA form
It may just be a web form, but it is a crime to abuse this form.

So, once Youtube gets a DMCA complaint and confirms it is a legitimate complaint (no, they are not required to take down everything if anyone asks—it has to be valid) a channel is “struck”.

Note that YouTube does not have the best record of preventing malicious actors from filing DMCA claims that are spurious, despite their ability any duty to reject them. In fact, Alex Mauer was (briefly) stopped by YouTube’s copyright office…until they dropped the ball again a few days later.

Now once a channel is “struck” it will force the user to go through “copyright school”, a condescending video tutorial and brief multiple choice test before you can use your account again at all. Fortunately it’s a pathetically easy test and is mostly just patronizing garbage.

Once you’ve “passed” said test, you can use your channel almost normally provided only one “strike” has occurred. The claimed video will be unavailable indefinitely, and certain restrictions will be placed on your account. You can’t create a new Paid Channel. If the claimed video was a livestream or stream archive you will completely lose the ability to livestream. If the claimed video was an upload, you will lose features related to uploading such as the ability to upload videos longer than 15 minutes.

Even if no action is taken on your behalf, most of these restrictions will automatically expire after 90 days if no action is taken, though the video will remain down.

However you can also issue a Counter Notice from the Copyright Notices page; what this means is that you assert your belief that the claim is illegitimate and/or your use of the material is entirely within the law. For this process you must submit a brief statement as to why you believe this and provide your legal name and address.

A Counter-Notified Strike Is Toothless

The first thing you need to know is counter notified strikes cannot take down your channel. The DMCA process is really, really bad, but you are not irreparably harmed the instant they’re filed on YouTube.

Counter Notifying is basically saying to Youtube “hey, this is not legitimate, this a-hole will either have to sue me or f-off into the sun”.

Once the Counter Notice is received and approved by YouTube, it goes to the claimant. The claimant has 10 business days to provide evidence to YouTube that they are taking legal action against you; if they cannot, the claim will expire, your video goes back up, and restrictions on your account are removed even if the 90 days are not up.

Since Alex Mauer’s claims are fraudulent and she has no capacity (or legal standing) to sue, her claims can be safely Counter Noticed and they will (and have been) removed once the 10 days are up.

The legal address and name aspect is a bit of a conundrum though; you’ll have to decide what matters more to you; keeping the video up/fighting the illegal claim/keeping your channel’s features, or exposing your address to a harassing party.

Thissucks, and the awful DMCA law is mostly at fault (to a lesser extent as is YouTube for not more thoroughly rejecting illegal claims), but it’s the present reality of the situation.

Personally I won’t concede to terrorists, so I counter notified to show I won’t be cowed, but I fully respect anyone who considers it not worth it as well.

Youtube Allows Abuse of Multiple Emails and Retractions

There’s a hitch in this system though, one so bad it caused me to write all this.

Alex’s early threats claimed that three strikes from her DMCA claims would disable a YouTube channel; YouTube doesn’t quite work like that. YouTube does have a Three Strikes, You’re Out rule, but multiple copyright claims from the same source only ever count as one “strike”, whether one video is claimed or a thousand. You have to be hit by three different accounts (usually companies) for your channel to be in mortal danger.

What’s the hitch then? Somewhere along the line Alex realized her bluff wasn’t working, and that she’d need to actually hit channels from multiple sources in order to take down channels. So she did. And YouTube let her.

Alex made at least two (almost certainly three) total emails and thus YouTube accounts to file her claims separately, and specifically targeted YouTube accounts with three or more videos that fit the criteria of her illegal DMCA claims, stating her intent was to take down channels (oops, guess this WASN’T just about taking control of her music, huh!).

This way, even though she was only one claimant, she could abuse the system to trigger YouTube’s Three Strikes rule which is specifically designed to prevent this.

In addition, Alex retracted her initial DMCA claims before they expired, and was then allowed to re-file claims on the same videos. It seems that any video for which the 10 days hadn’t expired was still vulnerable to this retract-and-resend abuse.

Using these two forms of abuse, she successfully took down Starr Mazer’s YouTube channel for less than 24 hours, though an unknown amount of other channels may have been affected. Over 100+ DMCA claims were admitted by Alex herself, but only a small handful of those affected (like me!) have publicly addressed the issue.

Both of these actions by Mauer are blatant exploits in YouTube’s system itself, not a DMCA problem. YouTube should immediately address these issues and shoulders the full blame for allowing these particular harassment vectors. Using multiple emails to evade a ban is also against YouTube’s terms of service, and apparently by retracting claims she was able to wipe counter notices and refile as if counter notices were never issued.

Real Channel Takedowns Are Extremely Unlikely

While the fake multi-outlet scamming is incredibly disgusting, petty, offensive, a violation of Youtube’s Terms of Service, and downright criminal harassment, it’s still not a free ticket even for someone as unscrupulous as Alex Mauer.

Worst case, you just reflile a counter notice, that way your timer is 10 business days instead of 90 days. And even if she does hit you with all three accounts, she still can’t destroy your account completely.

You see, even if you fall afoul of Youtube’s “Three Strikes” rule, you have 7 days to file counter notices. Again, so long as you counter-notify all incoming strikes, your channel cannot be taken down without real, legal action by the harassing party. Your channel will be “down” in the front end (just like videos are from single strikes), but nothing should be lost once the Counter Notice time expires and no action is taken against you.

This is no get-out-of-jail-free card from legitimate claims of course either; a large company you’ve actually infringed upon will quite likely actually be willing to enact legal action against you. But if you are sure they will not/cannot sue or are willing to take it to court, a counter notification is fairly safe.

This Whole Thing Sucks

In the end, every party but the YouTuber is partially at fault here; Alex Mauer is committing perjury and sending illegal claims. The DMCA is enabling her harassment and provides no direct vectors to stop her, and also most of the bad things YouTube does they have to do because of this law. YouTube is allowing their own system to be gamed by malicious actors and not screening verified frauds from future DMCA notices on the same videos they were previously found to be fraudulently claiming.

In a perfect world, Alex Mauer should be in jail for perjury, YouTube would plug the holes in their abusable system, and the DMCA would be struck down or massively reworked to fit the modern reality of the Internet (and more generally, to remove it’s absurd, downright offensive Guilty-Until-Proven-Innocent nature that is an affront to American law).

The courts (civil, criminal, or both) will have to take care of Mauer, but YouTube and the law itself still must be addressed. If you have contacts in YouTube, pressure them. Start a hashtag campaign. Slide into their mentions (politely). Do what you can to make them realize this is not a small issue, let them know by name what channels are affected if your favorite YouTuber is suffering from all this. Remember this is not a problem that starts or ends with Mauer.

YouTube’s necessary solutions are threefold: First, retracting a DMCA claim should permanently flag that video and claimant pair in a way that makes repeating a DMCA for purposes of harassment ineffective.

Second, a claimant using the same exact name claiming the same exact content should NOT be able to do so from multiple accounts! Internet Abuse 101 here.

Third, once a known fraud is identified (as Alex Mauer was), the entire Copyright office should be made known of it and their emails should be flagged properly so brute force is not an effective way to slip by once a malign actor is identified.

Finally, the DMCA itself is a big part of this problem. If you’re an American citizen, contact your representatives letting them know this is a real issue. People’s jobs, hobbies, lives, are being harmed here. The law is an ancient relic as far as practicality is concerned and needs a major overhaul.

You can find and contact your reps easily with Democracy.io or find their contact information with House.gov or Senate.gov to leave a call.

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Sir TapTap

Author: Sir TapTap

Gaming Spikeball dedicated to helping more people enjoy more cool games, especially the underrated and unknown. Positive vibes, cool games, thoughtful articles.