Democratic Convention 2012

Democrats Get Lesson in Awkward Online Piracy Prevention Tools with YouTube Takedown

YouTube copyright-detecting algorithm temporarily blocks stream


"Vote for Obama or I feed mid."

People who missed the Democratic National Convention speeches last night (as if there were a more exciting way to spend one's evening) may have discovered a surprise if they tried to catch up with the DNC's official YouTube video: It was automatically blocked due to 11 different copyright claims. Ryan Singel at Wired took note:

YouTube, the official streaming partner of the Democratic National Convention, put a copyright blocking message on the livestream video of the event shortly after it ended, which was embedded prominently at and DemConvention2012. Would-be internet viewers saw a message claiming the stream had been caught infringing on the copyright of one of many possible content companies.

Probably the various clips in video segments (and perhaps the songs that played speakers on and off) triggered YouTube's content filters. YouTube's system is capable of recognizing material that is claimed by major media and entertainment companies as being copyrighted and blocking it. Clever YouTubers will post a scene they like from a show or movie and trick the algorithm by flipping the horizontal orientation so it appears as a mirrored reverse.

It's extremely likely the DNC had permission to use whatever media clips triggered the block, but the filter wouldn't know that – which is one of the problems with these automatic filters in the first place. This particular instance didn't prevent streamers from watching the DNC live, making them luckier than viewers of the Hugo Awards ceremony honoring science fiction on Sunday. Ustream shut down the online streaming of the awards show during a speech by Neil Gaiman after clips from Dr. Who triggered the filter. The awards show had permission to use the clips, but the software didn't know that.

One of last night's speakers, Rep. Jared Polis, might have found some amusement in the temporary blockage. Polis was a vocal opponent of the Stop Online Piracy Act and rallied video-gamers in January to call Congress to encourage their representatives to vote against it. The accidental blocking of legitimate content was exactly the kind of unintentional side effect he worried about in an interview with Forbes. (Sadly, he didn't bring up his gamer or League of Legends credentials in his forgettable speech last night, focusing instead on being a gay dad. I'm still waiting for "gamer dad" to become the next "soccer mom.")