What is YouTomb?

YouTomb is a research project by MIT Free Culture that tracks videos taken down from YouTube for alleged copyright violation.

More specifically, YouTomb continually monitors the most popular videos on YouTube for copyright-related takedowns. Any information available in the metadata is retained, including who issued the complaint and how long the video was up before takedown. The goal of the project is to identify how YouTube recognizes potential copyright violations as well as to aggregate mistakes made by the algorithm.

Who is behind YouTomb?

YouTomb was built by MIT Free Culture, a student organization at MIT. Active Free Culture chapters exist at many schools and universities; they work together to promote open access to knowledge and culture. Here is a list of contributors.

Why did you make YouTomb?

When a user-submitted video is suspected to infringe copyright, the rights holder is contacted and given the option to take down the video in question. In addition, rights holders can submit DMCA takedown notifications at any time that cause YouTube to immediately remove alleged infringing content.

MIT Free Culture became especially interested in the issue after YouTube announced that it would begin using filtering technology to scan users' video and audio for near-matches with copyrighted material. While automating the takedown process may make enforcement easier, it also means that content falling under fair-use exceptions and even totally innocuous videos may receive some of the collateral damage.

As YouTube is not very transparent with the details surrounding this process and the software used, YouTomb was conceived to shed light on YouTube's practices, to educate the general public on the relevant copyright issues, and to provide helpful resources to users who have had their videos wrongfully taken down.

Are you really tracking every video on YouTube?

No, that would take more resources than we have. We watch for top videos on YouTube, videos mentioned in some parts of the Web, and other sources, and we track those videos. We don't have a random sample.

Are you encouraging copyright violation?

We are watchdogs; this project does not condone or promote illegal activity. That being said, many members of Free Culture take issue with the current state of US copyright and are actively seeking to reform it.

While many YouTube videos that contain non-original material are blatantly violating copyright (e.g. exact rips of TV shows), many others have a more complex legal status because of the fair use provision of copyright law. The sampling and remixing of non-original material have often led to great cultural accomplishments, so protecting this fragile aspect of copyright law is very important to us.

Can I watch these videos?

These videos are not available for viewing/downloading. Once again, this is simply a research project that seeks to find out more details about how YouTube locates and takes down videos accused of copyright violation.

What is fair use?

Fair use is the section of US copyright that allows creators to legally incorporate copyrighted work into their own works without permission of the copyright owner in certain situations. It is generally invoked for purposes of criticism, satire, parody, and education. Because fair use is so complex, we won't attempt to cover all the intricacies here — we suggest you read this article.

My video got taken down, what do I do?

If you believe your video was wrongfully taken down (it falls under fair use, or it contains no copyrighted material), you can file a DMCA counter-claim to have your video restored.

Why is stuff taken down in the first place?

Many rights holders believe that videos uploaded to YouTube damage their business or income stream. As such, rights holders can submit their works to a database of copyrighted work to be fingerprinted. Whenever YouTube's automated system finds a matching fingerprint (or part of the fingerprint), it notifies the rights holder. At that point, the rights holder can optionally take down the video.

How does YouTube determine what to take down?

As far as we know, YouTube generally doesn't take videos down themselves, but uses a scanning system that automatically notifies rights holders when suspected infringements occur. The rights holders are then able to remove the flagged items.

Can I use your data?

YouTomb is licensed as AGPL 3. Source code available here. Additionally, we have feeds. If you have other suggestions for how to best structure the data, please send them our way.

How can I help?

You can contact us if you're interested in helping, or if you're local, come to the next MIT Free Culture meeting.

Who are the contributors?

YouTomb was initially built by: Greg Price, David Sheets, Quentin Smith & Dean Jansen.

Additional contributors include: Oliver Day, Kevin Driscoll, Paul Irish, Peter Olson, Elizabeth Stark, Ben Weeks & Christina Xu.