Here is how Indian YouTubers are becoming victims to extortion

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Here is how Indian YouTubers are becoming victims to extortion
BI India
  • Several YouTubers have taken to Twitter to highlight the series of strikes they have faced over the last month.
  • People aware of the matter suggest that there were always instances of extortion on YouTube, but this time it is more organised.
  • YouTube follows a strict copyright infringement policy and suspends the account after three proven strikes.
YouTube is trying to reduce the number of copyright violations on its platform, but the folks are trying to use the stricter norms to harass original content creators to the point that it has turned into a tool of extortion.

Sachin Saxena was shocked. He was bound to be.

In June this year, YouTube sent him a copyright violation notice (known as strikes on the platform) on one of the videos he made from scratch — from scripting to shooting and even editing.

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It has been four years since Saxena has been creating explainers related to technology and new-age businesses on YouTube. The video platform has really enabled him to create a stable source of income, while doing what he loves.

Like anyone else would, he thought it would have been a mere misunderstanding and decided to approach the claimant in order to clear the air. But things took a turn for the worst.

No, it was no misunderstanding.

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It was one of those blackmailing cases he had infamously heard about from his peers.

US-based search giant Google’s video streaming platform YouTube has been very particular about copyright violations and has proactively taken steps to remove any such content that infringes on the rights of content creators. However, the approach has come to bite several small-time YouTubers on the back, as it has turned out to be a convenient tool for extortion.

The person, Darshan Deewana Official aka Munna Singh or whoever you want them to be, sought $200 in exchange for removing the strike against Saxena. The alleged extortionist also threatened to issue more copyright strikes against the Uttar Pradesh-based YouTuber in case he fails to make the said payment.

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But Saxena had done nothing wrong, apparently. So why should he pay to prove ownership over his own content? He decided to follow all due diligence and filed a counter notification (counter strike) claiming his ownership.

But it wasn’t going to be an easy path.

The alleged extortionist did exactly as he had said and issued four more strikes against Saxena over the next couple of days. These four strikes were issued over 11 videos, meaning there were a total of 11 copyright infringement cases concentrated in 4 strikes. Once again, Sachin filed a counter strike case against all these violations using Google’s pre-set form, but his request was rejected the first time.
Here is how Indian YouTubers are becoming victims to extortion
BI India

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He decided to give it another shot. He reached out to YouTube directly over email. He shared all the proof of ownership of the content, which he earlier couldn’t as YouTube’s copyright strike or counter notification application mechanism/form do not allow any attachments or links apart from the flagged video itself. This time his request was accepted.

Upon investigation, Business Insider found out that Sachin wasn’t the only one suffering from such fake copyright strikes.

A simple Twitter search gave us a deeper look into the spread of such copyright strikes. While Saxena may have been able to sail past this successfully, many haven’t been able to do so and their accounts have been suspended.
Here is how Indian YouTubers are becoming victims to extortion
BI India

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All these copyright strikes may not be “fake” as claimed in the screenshots above, but it is an awful coincidence that so many small-time YouTubers, who had enough subscribers to be earning through the platform, are receiving such request from different accounts. But it is also true that YouTube does not require any documentation to file a strike, in this case a series of strikes, against anyone. So, anyone, without even a YouTube account, can flag your content as stolen.

This is not the first time YouTube’s copyright strike mechanism has been used to extort money out of content creators. This policy has been exploited both in India and abroad. However, this time it is much more organised.

Apart from the above-mentioned email ID, there have also been other IDs involved in this giving this ‘series of copyright strikes’.

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It was certainly not the first time that Darshan Deewana had reached out to young YouTubers either. We also came across two separate instances, where a series of copyright strikes was issued by this person and a ransom was demanded.

Here is how Indian YouTubers are becoming victims to extortion
BI India

One of the YouTubers has also taken a legal route against this account holder.

Here is how Indian YouTubers are becoming victims to extortion
BI India

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While Saxena managed to get all these copyright strikes removed against him without paying, many have not been able to do so. One of the YouTubers, who paid this Darshan Deewana, said that his name would be removed from a list of YouTubers the extortionist had and no one would bother them again. “I decided to pay them so they don’t bother me again. I don’t want to go through this again,” the YouTuber added.

Upon further investigation, Business Insider was able to create a chain of these “fake” copyright claims issued by Darshan Deewana end-to-end. The copyright strike would be issued by a “Munna Singh” registered with an email address of “Darshan Deewana Official”. Darshan would ask the YouTubers to transfer the ransom on a PhonePe account registered with another number. The number was listed as WhatsApp Business, with another email starting with “nirash”.

Here is how Indian YouTubers are becoming victims to extortion
BI India

Business Insider reached out to Darshan Deewana and Nirash, but hasn’t received a response till publishing time.
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Why will YouTubers not reach out to YouTube directly?

YouTube is not unaware of such instances and has set up a proper procedure in place to counter any copyright infringement claims filed by someone. However, it may be difficult for some to remove such strikes.


There are two ways to file these counter-notification. First, file the counter copyright notification directly through a web form. Secondly, email YouTube at < copyright@youtube.com>.
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Many YouTubers have highlighted that their counter notifications were rejected in the first attempt. Flagging the issues over email has a higher chance of approval.

"YouTube's copyright removal process complies with the applicable law. We strive to be fair to our users and protect their freedom of expression while also respecting the legal rights of copyright owners. Based on a copyright claim raised by a copyright owner or an agent authorised to act on their behalf, users have the option to file a counter-notification when they believe their content has been removed as a result of a mistake or misidentification of the content, including fair use. The process further requires the claimant to provide evidence that they have initiated a court action within a specified timeline. In the event of any misuse of our process, we take it seriously and overturn removal decisions where we find evidence that a removal request was submitted without considering exceptions to copyright law such as fair use, fair dealing or other exceptions," the YouTube’s spokesperson told Business Insider over an email.

Here is how Indian YouTubers are becoming victims to extortion
BI India

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Another key thing to note here is that YouTube, in its policies, mentions that they don’t mediate copyright claims. It is left to the parties involved to decide. It is not up to YouTube who “owns the rights” to content.

Despite the availability of an elaborate mechanism, few YouTubers do not want to risk getting their accounts suspended. If by any chance YouTube finds the claimant’s claims to be accurate — true or not —, these YouTubers will have to either settle in court or out of it. That is going to cost them more money and time.

But why is this issue important? With the growth of the digital economy, India has become one of the most prominent markets not only in terms of customer base, but also in terms of creators.

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Only 16 Indian content creators had more than 1 million subscribers in 2014, but the community has touched over 1,200 such creators in 2019.

According to a digital marketing blog Digital Uncovered report, about 2,500 Indian creators on YouTube cross 1,000 subscriber milestones every day. Overall, YouTube has at least 225 million active users in India — that's more than 7 times the entire population of Canada.

The rise of such extortion cases can not only have a major impact on the livelihood of YouTubers, but also on YouTube itself. The instances highlighted in this report are largely from Tier 2 regions of India, but are not limited there. Several reports in the past have highlighted such incidents in the US as well, but the cases continue to exist despite this.

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For people like Saxena, it is a question of livelihood.

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