“P.S. Gay Car” Causing a Stir, but Not in the Way You May Think

Saturday, April 13, 2013, by Teresa Cook

A New York based comedy troop, Fortress of Attitude, is currently feuding with YouTube.com and Google over their music video “P.S. Gay Car”. The song got its lyrics directly from a note left on one of the band member’s car that used homophobia to criticize his parking job. However, it is not the video’s content that is creating the controversy.

The comedy group, self-proclaimed “hobbiest,” use YouTube as a platform to get their material out to a large number of people for little cost. YouTube is growing into more than just a place to post a clip of your cat; it has become a serious tool to create an online presence for people and groups that would not otherwise have the ability to “break into the biz”.

That is why the group, among many other account users, was very upset when their video was suddenly removed without warning on December 12, 2012. The only information the group was given was an error screen saying that the video had been remove because it violated YouTube’s Terms of Service. (Although YouTube did give a “sorry about that :/” (emoticon included)). Group member, Pat Stengo, received a form letter from YouTube stating that the video violated “TOU #4 Section H,” which prohibits the use of automated “robots” to ramp up the view count. Additionally, the letter added that any more violations would result in the removal of the user’s account completely, including all videos, views, and comments.

It seems this video was one of many more that were removed for the same reason as part of an effort by YouTube to clean up their site. Although this is a worthwhile goal, it is clear that there was a mistake in this case. The group claims that they used no such robots (“our group policy is that robots are scary and will someday enslave us all, and therefore we do not engage in any activities involving robots”). Their video gained 39,800 views in the first month as a result of being featured on several websites for their fun, pro-gay-rights message. The spikes in view count clearly line up with these features and it was for that reason that New Media Rights (“NMR”), a non-profit company that provides “legal services, education, and advocacy for Internet users and creators,” picked up the case.

The next three months consisted of unsuccessful attempts to get a human to review the case and see that, ironically, the view count algorithms used by YouTube’s own “robots” were incorrect. All of YouTube’s responses have been form letters that did not address the direct contentions from NMR and since March 7, 2013 there has been no response at all. The group has appealed to their fans to spread the word on this issue, both to get their video reinstated and to increase awareness about YouTube’s lack of user responsiveness and appeals process.

From a legal prospective YouTube’s policy has several ramifications. If anyone using this site, for whatever reason, can be removed without warning and without any chance to plead their case, YouTube basically has censorship power to remove any content they want. I do not imply in any way that YouTube has done this or would ever do this, only that they could. The threat is even scarier for groups like Fortress of Attitude that use the site as their main tool to reach viewers because they face the possibility that YouTube will erase all of their work for some future mistake. Not all groups can afford to pay a lawyer to take their case or be lucky enough to get help from non-profits like NMR.

With the emergence of any new media, the law will necessarily be unable to keep up with technology. This case is a perfect example of the new issues and situations created by the Internet that the law could never have predicted and is not adept to handle yet.