Owning the Clouds

Update: Please see “Owning the Clouds – Update.”

So, is the movie at right loading yet? Every moment that it does not load when the play button is clicked, and every moment that this returns an “unavailable” error page is another moment of Google Video denying me ownership of my own work.

Some of you will remember from this entry that I once made a series of timelapse videos of clouds above my apartment and let it out into the wild — into the public domain for all intents and purposes — where it later gained notoriety as the satirically ominous “Anonymous Message to Scientology,” which in turn became the root of other parodies along the same line — that of a robotic voice delivering intimidating messages through my cloud videos.

Three days ago, I received an email from copyright enforcement at Google Video stating that my video had been flagged as infringing by their Content Identification tool:

This is to notify you that your video “Timelapse Clouds Compilation” from your Google Video account has been disabled because it has been identified by our Content Identification tools as potentially lacking the necessary copyright authorization for use on the Google Video site. Content Identification is a program that analyzes similarities in audio or video between user videos and a library of reference content provided to us by copyright owners. When a video matches a reference file, that video is automatically disabled.

If you believe that this identification is a mistake, please click on the following link to learn how you can dispute this [link]

Please note: Repeat incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your account and all videos uploaded to that account. In order to avoid future strikes against your account, please delete any videos to which you do not have all rights, and refrain from uploading additional videos that infringe on the copyrights of others.

More information about Content Identification can be found at this link [link]


The Google Video Team

On seeing this my first thought was that some big media outfit had probably used the video in a story about Anonymous, and Content Identification had made a false match between the clip and my work. I sent in a request as to which entity had made the copyright claim, and got back this response from video-copyright:

Hi Paulo,

The copyright owner, twentythreesix, has allowed your video to remain live on the site.


The Google Team

Sure enough, Arianna Huffington’s comedy news site 236.com had posted a derivative parody to YouTube: “A Message to Rudy Giuliani,” which amusingly deviates somewhat from the standard “Message from Anonymous” pattern by pausing part way through while Anonymous fends off his mom. There’s the standard synthesized speech, the standard message from Anonymous, and of course, my cloud timelapse video — which now, I gather from the phrasing of the Googly copyright notice email, 236.com is now claiming to have copyright on.

This drove me into a violent fit of abject rage, and I sent out a pissy response, cc:’d to 236.com’s legal address and, as a cry of anguish directed to the very top, to Arianna Huffington herself:

Why, thank you! Please do convey to twentythreesix (23/6) that I am absolutely DRIPPING WITH GRATITUDE for so GRACIOUSLY permitting me to KEEP MY OWN VIDEO UP. Bad enough that their “Anonymous Message to Giuliani” was derived from the “Anonymous Message to Scientology” which used my original footage, now twentythreesix is still claiming COPYRIGHT ON THE ORIGINAL FOOTAGE, and only letting me keep my own material up out of the GOODNESS OF THEIR HEARTS.

Of course, this might have been completely pointless. If I were to try and think the best of all involved, the phrasing on the Content Identification notice emails would imply that the people at 236.com have no idea this is even happening, and that the infringement notice and reply was simply auto-generated when the copyright bots saw a match between 236’s content and my own. This raises the issue, however, that Google Video’s content-flagging system is not only flawed (in that it failed to identify my video as the original, despite its having been published at a much earlier date than any of the “Message from Anonymous” videos that were ever uploaded), but also unfairly skewed towards big content producers, who get special copyright enforcement tools denied to casual amateur producers (like myself), who in turn lack the time and resources to effectively enforce their own copyright, and dispute claims such as this one.

I suppose it’s what I get for being nice and uploading those videos for anyone to use without expecting credit or payment in return — some big outfit was bound to take it, produce a thirdhand derivative work, and aggressively claim ownership at my expense. At this point, sending a takedown notice means that in the spirit of consistency I would need to send takedowns to all the other producers of “Message from Anonymous” parodies, and that would not only be too much trouble, but a major jerk move on my part. I’ll take the high road and let 236.com have their ball, but I’m posting this just so you know who really took those cloud videos. That should be enough to satisfy my ego.

(While I’m at it I should probably start moving stuff off of Google Video. Right after I posted this entry the cloud timelapse video disappeared. Now I’m speechless. So much for not being evil.)

Note: Please see “Owning the Clouds – Update.”


  1. COD says:

    I like http://www.viddler.com – higher quality encoding than Google Video too. Downside is that they are a start up, so who knows how long they will be around.

  2. Jen says:

    What a load of crap!! btw, the video link above isn’t working for me. I hope everything works out for you!

  3. daev says:

    It’s a pretty sad indictment that we almost expect to see this sort of thing happening. Kudos to you for releasing your work into the wild for all of us to enjoy, copy, re-work, mangle, etc.

    I hope you go through Google’s hoops to see if their dispute process actually works and please post follow-ups regarding how that process works for you. I agree with you that 236.com is likely unaware of the issue and that it’s more of an automated error than anything. I would hope that Google cares enough to address this, and I think an email carpet-bomb campaign is in order if they don’t restore proper credit for ownership of your work. It really does point out flaws in automated processes for this kind of thing, but also points out how out of step copyright is in general with the digital age. In a way I’m glad you’re going through this (though I wish no ill-will) because it draws attention to these flaws.

    Do keep us posted, and best of luck to you! Thanks again for giving the world some of your time and effort! :)

  4. Thanks for your good deed to the creative community and don’t let this get you down – the whole copyright system is a mess right now.

  5. Pike says:

    Sorry to hear this happened. It’s a shame when corporations get away with this kind of stuff.

  6. fishercat says:

    I hope that Arianna Huffington is not a $cientologist, because this crap sure smells like something right out of Scientology’s Fair Game play Book.

    It is worth noting that there is SO much legitimate copyright infringment happening on google vids and youtube which seems to not ever be flagged and taken down (like soap operas that my mother in law watches on youtube religiously when she comes home from work!) that it is hard not to suspect that someone with a vindictive ax to grind is behind this.

    tl;dr–you have been fair gamed!

  7. SOT says:

    Make another video from the same location and have your screen name on a sign in it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for some terrific footage. Sorry you’ve had to deal with the hassle.

  9. S says:

    He could watermark his videos, but that’s hardly releasing it into the public domain – “I hereby allow the use of my work for personal or commercial use, as long as you’re ok with my name being displayed at the bottom”

    It’s a bad state of affairs. There’s something very wrong about automated bots deciding who owns what material.

    Lovely timelapse though, congrats on producing it.

  10. Anonymous says:

    This is bullshit. How can we help?

  11. Anonymous says:

    What ^^^ said. Your clouds are awesome and cool and it’s great that you share them with everyone. But they’re still YOURS and anyone who says otherwise is a moron.

    Is there anything we can do to help?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous here, we ARE legion.

    We are against censorship.

    We are not your personal army, but regardless let us know if we can help.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Just to repeat what others have said…thanks for releasing your work to the world, and what can we do to help correct this?

    If you post possible avenues, they will propagate through the internets.

    We are legion, etc, etc…

  14. Anonymous says:

    That just fills me with rage. Google has been fucking up so much with those videos that it’s not even funny any more.

    If there’s anything we can do to help, a lot of us are willing to.

  15. Michael says:

    If you didn’t file the counternotice that Google described in its web page, you have nothing to complain to Google about. They are merely doing exactly what the law says they have to do (which includes making absolutely ZERO value judgments on whether or not the 236.com complaint is legitimate or not). See the Chilling Effect FAQ on this law if you don’t believe me. http://www.chillingeffects.org/dmca512/faq.cgi

    Get mad at 236.com if you wish, but don’t blame Google for this one. Remember, if Google didn’t have a safe harbor law like this, it probably wouldn’t exist since everybody would be suing Google for copyright infringements done by its users.

  16. Anonymous says:

    How can we help?

  17. anon says:

    I got an error with vimeo. I would not take it personally though. It can be fickle with codecs and some videos. Try uploading the same thing next week in a different codec.

    Also, thou art the man.

  18. cassandra says:

    Wow! What dickheads!

    This is so ironic…

    hope you make it through!

  19. JAB_au says:

    Take a leaf out of their book, file a DMCA Complain against them for use of your video without permission, see how they like it. Might be able to make some royalties out of them or at least embarrasses Google into actually checking videos properly.

    Yes I know its harsh but it’s your video you should get to decide who gets to use it and under what conditions, especially if they are a big faceless cooperation. LOL, remember this is taking a leaf out of their book.

  20. Hi, the video is working for me. (Austria,Vienna)

    Thank you for sharing your Intellectual Propperty. And get them bastards the next time by some kind of CC licence.

    Very bad for Google, they can’t be trusted to make the right decissions on their mathematical formulas and statistics all the time…

    I hope the human in the loop they have will help you get your rights as well as your video up!