Everyone knew this was the state of the law, and highly unlikely to change, but conservative commentator Dennis Prager had many of his followers hoping otherwise. A Ninth Circuit panel has now ruled that YouTube is not a state actor and that its marketing of itself as a forum featuring diverse viewpoints was opinion and not false advertising. [Nancy Scola, Politico; Eugene Volokh; Prager University v. Google; earlier (many channels not identified with conservative ideas saw far higher shares of their content placed in parental-control category than did Prager); Jonathon Hauerschild, American Legislative Exchange Council last January (YouTube not “public forum” for legal purposes)]
Conservative commentator Dennis Prager has an op-ed in yesterday’s WSJ restating his claims (made in a lawsuit dismissed last year and re-filed this spring in a new suit) that YouTube restricted his “Prager University” videos owing to anti-conservative bias. These claims of unfair treatment have gotten wide circulation, especially since the popular Prager U. series for the most part presents mainstream conservative views in a calm rather than incendiary tone. In his op-ed, Prager speaks favorably about the enactment of new “laws governing big technology companies” to restrain “their hostility to conservative voices.”
This Mike Masnick thread (language) gives another side to the story. YouTube’s optional “restricted mode,” meant to limit kid viewing, isn’t important or much used (only 1.5% of users enable it). The PragerU shows at issue did have some content about topics like rape, murder, and genocide that might disturb younger children. And many other well-known shows see a larger share of their episodes put into restricted mode. Thus 12% of Prager U. videos have been put in restricted mode, compared with 24% of History Channel videos, 28% of Vox videos and 54% of Daily Show videos. Matthew Feeney at Cato, James Pethokoukis at AEI, and Billy Binion at Reason have more.
One irony I see in this is that conservatives up till recently have tended to favor promoting parental-control modes in social media, or even making them the default, and have accepted the inevitability that the automated algorithms that inevitably drive these modes when applied to large bodies of material may sometimes sweep broadly enough to screen out even some responsible, sober, and fact-based discussions of topics to which parents might not want to expose younger teens.
Having now seen these modes in action, they seem to be having second thoughts.
P.S. “Conservatives have also spent decades opposing any attempt to revive the FCC’s old Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to be balanced in their programming on controversial issues. ‘FCC bureaucrats can neither determine what is “fair” nor enforce it,’ the Heritage Foundation said in 1993.” [Margaret Harding McGill and Daniel Lippman, Politico, on reports of new White House executive order]
More: John Samples, Cato (“Dennis Prager, Big-Government Conservative”).
Mike Masnick at TechDirt examines claims that YouTube, Facebook, and other social media companies irresponsibly refrained from deleting user-posted copies of the March 14 mass murder at Christchurch, New Zealand mosques.
“Sony Music Entertainment has been forced to abandon its claim that it owned 47 seconds of video of musician James Rhodes using his own piano to play music written by Johann Sebastian Bach.” After Rhodes posted the video to Facebook, Sony sent a takedown notice saying that the performance “matches 47 seconds of audio” owned by Sony. Match-detecting algorithms have become commonplace in the copyright takedown field; in this case, Sony backed down after Rhodes’s tweet about the situation got considerable attention. [Timothy Lee, ArsTechnica]
Sony does own the rights to the performances of important Bach interpreters such as Glenn Gould, so it is possible that a performance influenced by Gould’s would be especially likely to trip a similarity algorithm. But it gets worse. Last year an Australian music teacher named Sebastian Tomczak “posted on YouTube a 10-hour recording of white noise as an experiment” (in sound perception, not copyright practice) and “within days, the upload had five different copyright claims filed against it. All five would allow continued use of the material, the notices explained, if Tomczak allowed the upload to be “monetized,” meaning accompanied by advertisements from which the claimants would get a share.” [Joseph Bottum, Free Beacon]
And finally, from my own recent experience: a comment from a local performance group’s Facebook page about how a recording of a sing-through of Gilbert & Sullivan Utopia, Ltd. triggered a takedown based on supposed copying of an entirely different work, Rossini’s William Tell. The passage that showed too much similarity? The audience applause!
There is some evidence that algorithms employed by YouTube to suggest next videos can foster rabbit holing, in which curious newcomers are drawn into ever more extreme and outrageous content, including fever-swamp ideology. That’s a legitimate concern, for sure, but in this instance it’s melded with blithe urgings that the state get in and impose its ideological will on content, as if that wouldn’t raise dangers of its own [Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times] Note also a body of research contrary to the notion that social media encourages the formation of ideological bubbles and reinforcement [John Samples, Cato; Michael A. Beam, Myiah J. Hutchens and Jay D. Hmielowski, Information, Communication & Society (“Facebook news use was related to a modest over-time spiral of depolarization.”)]
- Newspaper execs who faked circulation numbers ended up copping pleas. Law deans who fudged employment stats don’t need to worry, do they? [Morgan Cloud and George Shepherd via Paul Caron]
- Back in The Excuse Factory I wrote about the unplanned consequences of age discrimination law and the prohibition of automatic retirement ages and it’s nice to see a wider consensus forming even if nothing, absolutely nothing, ever gets done to fix it [Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum, WSJ]
- Fair use: “Man who sued over Facebook childbirth livestream slapped with $120k in fees” [Joe Mullin, Ars Technica]
- “Stop Faking Service Dogs: Loving your pet too much is putting people with real disabilities at risk” [Wes Siler, Outside, our tag on service animals] More: Michael Ollove, Stateline;
- Fifth Circuit reverses $663 million Eastern District of Texas False Claims Act award over sale of guardrails to highway authorities [U.S. ex rel. Harman v. Trinity Industries, Mark Curriden/Texas Lawbook, our earlier critical commentary]
- “Why Conservatives Should not Sic Antitrust on Silicon Valley” [John McGinnis, Liberty and Law]
Copyright holders “must consider the existence of fair use before sending a takedown notification,” rules a Ninth Circuit panel, allowing a lawsuit to go forward against Universal Music Group, which had fired off a takedown notice over a mother’s 2007 YouTube posting of a home video showing her baby dancing to a song whose rights Universal owns. “To be successful at trial, Universal doesn’t have to prove that the video wasn’t fair use. It just has to show that it considered fair use before sending the notice. Otherwise, it could be liable for ‘nominal’ damages to [Stephanie] Lenz — which wouldn’t be much, since her video went back up after a short period and has been available since.” The common use of computer programs to generate takedowns, so long as it is governed by the right sorts of algorithms, appears to be consistent with the good faith required by DMCA, the court suggested. [Joe Mullin, ArsTechnica]
A tribute to Section 230: “No other sentence in the U.S. Code, I would assert, has been responsible for the creation of more value than that one; if you have other candidates for that honor you think more worthy, please do share them.” — David Post on the fateful, intermediary-immunizing “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This bar to liability, Post writes, helped make possible “virtually every successful online venture that emerged after 1996 — including all the usual suspects, viz. Google, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, Craigslist, YouTube, Instagram, eBay, Amazon.”
We’ve covered this topic before, but Mike Masnick at Techdirt has a slew of revealing new details on how Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood acted as cat’s paw for Hollywood studios in his legal battles against Google. Former Mississippi attorney general Michael Moore, another longtime Overlawyered favorite, plays a key role in the story as well. Our coverage of Hood’s work over many years is here.