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The latest Kent Hovind scandal appears to be a larger scale repeat of the Uri Geller one. The facts as I'm able to determine them: 1. Kent Hovind, an evangelist for the crackpot Bible-based pseudoscience called creationism, distributes many videos...

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September 16, 2007

YouTube is eager to be Kent Hovind's bitch

The latest Kent Hovind scandal appears to be a larger scale repeat of the Uri Geller one.

The facts as I'm able to determine them:

1. Kent Hovind, an evangelist for the crackpot Bible-based pseudoscience called creationism, distributes many videos advocating his position.

2. Hovind repeatedly and explicitly states that his videos "are not copyrighted" and encourages free distribution of them.

3. Critics of Hovind use his videos in a quotation context to build their arguments against his position; this usage of Hovind's work is doubly protected free speech -- as fair use (comment and criticism) as well as by Hovind's own release of copyright in his work.

4. A few days ago, Hovind starts filing copyright-based complaints against his critics who use his videos in their works. He demands that YouTube take the videos down.

5. YouTube responds, Yes, sir! How high? Entire YouTube accounts --including scores of videos containing no disputed content whatsoever -- are immediately shut down because of YouTube's policy of responding like an enraged psychotic schoolgirl to any complaint that contains the word "copyright."

YouTube is too important an institution in our culture to have such an easily abused policy. An analogy would be your bank freezing all of the money in your account because some random person came up to the bank and said, "I think this person has some of my money in there," thereby forcing you to prove to the bank that this frivolous claim is not true in order to get access to your money back. It would be a stupid policy.

Yet, that's all it takes to get a YouTube video taken down. Just press the "send" button on a single complaint claiming that a scrap of your intellectual property is in someone's video. If you want an entire YouTube channel taken down, just send another complaint or two; now your target is a "repeat offender" and will be suspended. It doesn't matter to YouTube that you have no serious legal case, or that your real motivation is to remove embarrassing but deserved criticism. YouTube will be your eager lackey, taking down whatever you tell them to take down, and further punishing anyone you designate by taking down all their other videos, too.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how to abuse this policy. In fact, all it takes is a creation scientist. It's also rather obvious that the kind of YouTube channels most likely to be innocent victims of this abuse are the ones engaging in the most controversial speech -- i.e., topics like religion and politics. Historically, that kind of speech has been considered the most deserving of protection in the United States. It's good for the culture to have a vigorous, unfettered dialogue about controversial subjects.

But on YouTube, the most important speech is the least protected speech. YouTube, while portraying itself as the voice of the common citizen, appears not to care that its policies encourage the shutdown of religious and political expression.

This is a major story. Why it's not all over the media I can't fathom.

I think Brian Sapient may be right that more radical action is necessary to illustrate how harmful to free expression YouTube's takedown policies are.