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I feel like everywhere you go you'll see copyright infringement. When I open social media, people post copyrighted videos and photos all the time. I suppose I'm assuming they've not got permission - but what 30 follower account is able to get permission from big movie studios etc?

My question - Why is this kind of infringement not acted on more, and prosecuted? For example:

  1. There are so many YouTube Shorts that just blatantly post clips of Movies, Football games, TV Programmes, etc. Why do these never get in trouble? Perhaps they get a copyright strike, but surely they would be prosecuted/sued?
  2. There are 'Leak' sites for mods of games, which operate under the proviso of having all content that is uploaded copyright free and not owned by a single entity. Enough so that newer users may not be aware that they're downloading pirated items/stolen source code. Why do those who upload to these sites, or even host these sites, not get in trouble, and prosecuted/sued, or even those that download from these sites?
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    IIRC Google is paying huge amounts of money to music companies so they're not sued. And they take videos down quite quickly upon receiving a report.
    – PMF
    Apr 20, 2023 at 17:59
  • Some social media platforms have worked out deals or systems with major copyright holders and PROs to basically build licensing into their platforms on behalf of users. The whole monetization/demonetization and strike system on YouTube is one famous example. Apr 21, 2023 at 4:10
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    Note that a lot of what you're seeing is civil copyright infringement, not criminal. So they'd have to get a civil suit filed against them by the party whose copyright is infringed, not prosecuted by the state.
    – user541686
    Apr 21, 2023 at 6:03
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    Basic answer: it's only worth suing if (a) the financial damage being done is greater than the cost of taking legal action, and (b) taking legal action stands a good chance of reducing that damage. Apr 21, 2023 at 15:44
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    watch " YouTube's Copyright System Isn't Broken. The World's Is. " by Tom Scott youtube.com/watch?v=1Jwo5qc78QU
    – user44312
    Apr 21, 2023 at 21:21

8 Answers 8

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  • You are wrong that they never get into legal trouble. It isn't terribly common but it certainly happens to those that get relatively prominent.
  • Many of the folks doing the copyright infringement are judgement proof. It makes little sense for Disney, for example, to sue some guy living in his parents' basement for uploading a clip of their movie when that guy has no assets. Financially, it wouldn't be worth the cost of a lawyer.
  • Many of the folks doing the copyright infringement are in jurisdictions that look the other way. If you're a Russian citizen pirating content owned by American companies, the Russian authorities aren't going to cooperate and arrest you and the American companies likely can't recover any judgement they'd get because you don't have any assets in America.
  • There is a whack-a-mole problem. If there are hundreds of people posting pirated content to Facebook and each one is running hundreds of pages, that's tens of thousands of pages posting content. By the time you identify and close all of them, the pirates will have created tens of thousands of new pages.
  • There is a cat-and-mouse problem. Copyright owners have automated tools to scan for their IP to issue takedown notices. Piraters know this so they modify the video (posting it as a mirror image or adding some additional video elements) in order to evade the automated tools. If copyright owners have to manually identify pirated content, it's realistically not cost effective to do so. The humans finding that content would cost more than the business loses in revenue to pirates.
  • Tracking down the actual human/ business behind the copyright infringement is often a fair amount of work and may involve motions in courts in multiple countries. That work tends not to be highly prioritized by law enforcement. If you're a small fish, it is unlikely that anyone would go to the effort of unmasking you in order to sue.
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    – Dale M
    Apr 21, 2023 at 22:50
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There's also a political dimension here: the copyright holders (e.g., music labels, publishers etc.) as a group would be extremely ill-advised to prosecute commoners for something like posting on social media. The copyright law evolved to its existing shape as copyright holders were strongly lobbying, and no-one else was paying attention. Thus, for example, the original 14+14 years of copyright turned to 28+14, then to 28+28, then to 50 after author's death, then to 70 after author's death. Maybe this really reflects a consensus of how many years is fair and best serves public interests, but I find other explanation more plausible - when these laws were passed, it was not a tangible issue for anyone besides the copyright holders.

Making it a tangible issue for every user of social media, and thus bringing on a serious discussion of whether the current copyright law is fair, is not something they want to do.

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There are so many YouTube Shorts that just blatantly post clips of Movies, Football games, TV Programmes, etc. Why do these never get in trouble? Perhaps they get a copyright strike, but surely they would be prosecuted/sued?

If they are using the clip for commentary, then it's covered under Fair Use doctrine (in the U.S. at least).

Another big reason is optics. When a big media corporation goes after some small fry for copyright infringement on a small scale, it tends to generate a lot of negative publicity. If you see a headline like "Multi-billion dollar Disney corporation sics their lawyers on 20-year-old for unauthorized use of 'Let It Go' on YouTube", what's your gut reaction? An average person's reaction will be more along the lines of "damn those big corporations and their soulless corporate lawyers" than "shame on that young adult for their flagrant violation of copyright law!"

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Uploading an exciting movie excerpt which is so short that it cannot be a substitute for watching the actual movie is actually an advertisement for the movie. There is no incentive for the publisher to harass fans and interdict free advertisements. All to the contrary: Going viral online is the best thing that can happen to a TV show or a movie.

Actual valuable assets are much more closely guarded. You won't find live streams of top sports events on YouTube for which TV networks have payed millions of dollars, and you typically don't find entire movies, with a few exceptions where copyright has expired or where the monetary value is so low (no streaming sales, no theater screenings) that nobody really cares (is my guess) — one example I stumbled across recently are the tacky Winnetou western movies of my childhood, like this one.

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    Same reason why Microsoft has ignored "piracy" on a small scale for decades now: it's more beneficial for them to have kids, students, and interns getting used to Microsoft products they couldn't afford anyhow, some of whom later become decision makers in businesses and buy a large number of Microsoft products, because it's what they know. Apr 23, 2023 at 9:23
  • @JörgWMittag And, along those same lines, also why Microsoft makes much of its software available for free (legally) to university students.
    – reirab
    Apr 24, 2023 at 1:59
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    @reirab And why Visual Studio Community Edition exists.
    – user45623
    May 3, 2023 at 2:59
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The first cut that should be made regards "prosecution". Copyright infringement as crime is a narrow subset of general copyright infringement, in the US involving copying and redistribution for monetary gain. The incidence of criminal infringement is relatively low, compared to "infringement for free". The government might have an interest and does have the resources to criminally prosecute infringers, though it also has many other interests and demands on its resources.

At the level of pursuing infringement via individual civil suits, the next cut that needs to be made, in understanding lack of legal action, is in terms of the kinds of plaintiffs out there. This is a continuum based on the "size" of the plaintiff (resources, really) and their interest, with Disney being towards the top of that list, and me being towards the bottom. Disney is highly motivated to protect its lucrative primary source income, but my content is a tiny source of income.

The third factor to consider is potential for awareness. I know of artists whose music is repeatedly copied from CD and posted on Youtube. Even if you know in principle that your work is being infringed, you may not know the details required for taking legal action (such as the URL).

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In the , the basic unit of copyright infringement enforcement on the modern internet is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down.

Online service providers (e.g. YouTube) are given safe harbor (are protected from litigation) as long as they expeditiously remove infringing content their users have uploaded.

This enforcement mechanism is much cheaper than hiring a P.I., process server, lawyer, etc. to identify, sue, and prevail in court against some unknown person, who in all likelihood won’t even have any valuable assets to seize. So, in general, a DMCA takedown (or an automated identification system like YouTube’s) is the only one that is used.

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Regardless of what country copyright infringement occurs in, it's all about money. In most cases the reason why infringer are not pursued is because of money. The cost of court proceedings is extremely expensive regardless of Country so it makes it prohibitive. The other issue is that a lot of copyright infringement online cannot be traced because of cloudflare as well as other similar services.
We wrote and article about this topic here: https://www.dundaslawyers.com.au/copyright-infringement-online-lessons-for-website-owners/

Hope that helps.

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I just want to comment on that "there are so many YouTube Shorts that just blatantly post clips of" copyrighted material, as the OP says. I can tell that in my experience that kind of content is actually detected and dealt with by Youtube.

I made a video with a piece of music (taken from a CD) and some free images (taken from Wikimedia Commons and used according to their licenses) and uploaded it to Youtube. In a few days, Youtube notified me that the copyrighted content (the piece of music) had been automatically identified and that all income that my video could produce would be given to the copyright holder of the music. It wasn't a big deal because I didn't expect any income from my video (1.8 k views in 9 years), but it shows that copyright infringements are controlled in Youtube so they become somehow a licensed use. A lot of the apparent copyright infringements that you can find in Youtube can be actually allowed by the copyright owner in the same way.

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