YouTube’s virtual boundaries

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Most of us are YouTube users, and everyone has at least once seen the standard notification: “This video is not available in your country.” This is especially confusing if a video is freely available in Latvia, but access is denied when you travel to Britain or Japan. Why is that? Who is authorised to impose such restrictions? Answers to these questions can be found in copyright legislation rather than in the world of information technology.
Copyright laws around the world provide for protecting the author’s work and interests, meaning the author has the right to use their work in any form or manner, to permit or prohibit its use, and to receive royalties for allowing others to use their work.1 The author has the inalienable right to decide to publicise their work, including on the Internet and in the digital environment. However, there will be no infringement of copyright if a work that has been displayed or made available publicly is used without the author’s consent and royalty-free.2
YouTube’s policy and main principles of service provide for copyright protection that meets statutory requirements and is effective. As a result, YouTube users, including music recording companies, may decide to publicise certain content but have it blocked in countries where its broadcasting is undesirable (known as geo-blocking).
Blocking content posted by users
YouTube’s general Terms of Service provide that a user uploading or posting videos, music, photographs, graphics or other content to YouTube grants to YouTube and to each user a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable licence to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such content.3
However, granting such a worldwide, royalty-free licence without exception would be contrary to the purposes of copyright, and therefore any YouTube user who asserts their exclusive right to uploaded content may use Content ID, a system specially designed to ensure the protection and management of content posted to YouTube. When applying for Content ID, the user should identify the geographical region of their exclusive rights. A user owning the right to a video only in specified territories may deny access to it outside those territories. As a result, when we try to access the video in those territories we will see the notification: “This video is not available in your country.”
It should be noted that Content ID not only grants the right to impose virtual restrictions on the use of a video, but it also ensures that any files posted by Content ID users are compared with all content uploaded to YouTube in order to make sure they are not using any copyrighted files. If a copyrighted file is found in third-party YouTube content, then copyright is infringed and its owner has a number of options:
  • Monitor the viewing statistics for a video that contains a protected file;
  • Place advertising within it and receive revenue from such advertising; or
  • Block the video and make it unavailable in certain territories.
If a video is blocked because of a copyright infringement, we will see something along the lines of “This video has been removed – warning of copyright violation.”
Blocking licensed content
YouTube’s general Terms of Service and the benefits of Content ID apply to all users who independently upload or post content to YouTube. All other content is either owned by or licensed to YouTube, and is subject to copyright, trade mark rights, and other intellectual property rights of YouTube or YouTube’s licensors.
For example, in the music industry the authors of songs transfer their rights to music recording companies, who administer and regulate the subsequent posting of music recordings and videos on the Internet, including through agreements signed with YouTube. The world’s major music recording companies Sony Music Entertainment (US), Warner Music Group (US) and Universal Music Group (US), who owned 68.7% of the global music market in 2016, have signed cooperation agreements with YouTube. Those agreements grant the authors and performers of songs the right to receive royalties for the use of music content on YouTube.
Unlike any content posted by YouTube users, licensed music content may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced, distributed, transmitted, broadcast, displayed, sold, licensed, or otherwise exploited for any other purpose whatsoever without the prior written consent of YouTube or YouTube’s licensors.4 As a result, music recording companies may determine countries in which access to video content is denied. Videos are most often blocked in countries whose collective associations of authors have not entered into a cooperation agreement with YouTube.
We can look at Latvia’s experience as an example. Before the Copyright and Communication Consulting Agency/ Latvian Association of Authors (AKKA/LAA) entered into a licence agreement with YouTube, Latvian residents were considered to be illegally using YouTube services, and music recording companies such as Sony Music Entertainment often prohibited broadcasting video content in Latvia. Things changed on 18 March 2014, when lengthy negotiations resulted in a licence agreement being signed between YouTube and AKKA/LAA, giving AKKA/LAA members the right to receive royalties for works used on YouTube and allowing Latvian YouTube users to legally use music audio and video recordings posted to the website.
The virtual geographical restrictions on using YouTube videos are basically intended for copyright protection. YouTube will determine the user’s location and country by identifying their IP address. If the address is outside the geographical region in which the use of a video is allowed, the user will inevitably see the notification: “This video is not available in your country.” YouTube’s geo-blocking example is just one of many, since Amazon, Google Play Store, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and other websites use geo-blocking as a copyright protection tool. That is why there is no way to avoid the notification that this video is not available in your country, regardless of what website we choose to use.
1 Section 15(4) of the Copyright Act
2 Section 19(6) of the Copyright Act
3 Paragraph 8.1 of YouTube’s Terms of Service
4 Paragraph 9 of YouTube’s Terms of Service


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