Google Deletes "PS Gay Car" - Help get it back online

New Media Rights recently hit a dead-end in an attempt to resolved what seemingly should be a routine issue: a band of hobbyist musicians, Fortress of Attitude, had a Youtube video that got misflagged by an automated Youtube takedown system. They were unfairly accused of violating Youtube's terms of service. Below, Pat Stango of Fortress of Attitude describes the 3+ month process of attempting to get his video human-reviewed and reinstated. Like our work with Jonathan McIntosh, Pat's story highlights area where Youtube's technology, support, and legal department can improve its practices.

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Hello people of the internet,

My name is Pat Stango, and I’m a member of New York City-based comedy group/ rock band “Fortress of Attitude.”  Don’t worry, we're not here to plug our upcoming shows or sell you some band merchandise. (Though we DO still have a few hundred T-shirts with our name spelled wrong, if anyone is interested.) Instead we need to let you know about a very difficult situation we’re going through with YouTube/Google regarding a music video being taken down unfairly. WAIT! Don’t leave yet. This situation could totally happen to you too.

On Nov 17, 2012, we uploaded our newest Fortress of Attitude video to YouTube, entitled “PS Gay Car.” You can view a (lo-resolution) version of the video here at Funny or Die.

We wrote the song several years ago, using the exact words of a mean note we found on our car one day and turning it into a rocking tune. Eventually we self-produced this music video, and after lots of hard work came away with something very fun with a pro-gay message. The “PS Gay Car” video caught on quickly, and was featured on several popular websites:

Thanks in large part to that media attention, the video gained 39,800 views in its first month on Youtube! 

And then a month later YouTube took down the video. Oh boy.

 

 

We received one form email from YouTube on December 19th, 2012, stating that the video was in Violation of TOU #4 Section H. Basically, they said that we had used some sort of outside service to gain fake or robot views, thereby violating their terms of service.

 

 

So, note up front: we 100% did not engage in any activity of that sort. First of all, 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—especially activities such as artificially inflating YouTube views.

Secondly it is very clear why the video had gotten its views. Popular websites posted the video, thereby putting it in front of their readerships, and it was spread around. As a group we did nothing more than email the link out to our mailing list, post it on our Facebook pages, and send it to these media outlets. Trying to create artificial views for our work is not something we would do, and it also seems like WAY too much work.

So obviously there was some sort of accounting mistake on YouTube’s part. And hey, they’re responsible for monitoring millions (billions?) of videos per day, so I get it: MISTAKES HAPPEN. They flagged our video incorrectly. Surely, I assumed, I could contact Youtube, explain the mistake, and they would put our video right back up.

 

 

Flash forward four months later, and that has certainly not been the case.

After receiving the initial email I searched for a way to contact YouTube/Google and it turns out, there really isn’t any way to do so. The closest I could find was the “Send Feedback” function on their site, but that elicited no response. Google has absolutely no protocol in place for users to plead their case.

Luckily, we then found the fine folks over at the New Media Rights, and after becoming emotionally moved by our case (I imagine they cried quite a bit), they agreed to contact Google’s legal department on our behalf for free.

Although they told me that YouTube very rarely reinstates videos in situations like mine, after I saw the well-reasoned email they wrote on my behalf, I was hopeful. New Media Rights spent a few pages explaining our case and showing why Google had obviously made some sort of mistake.

In response they got this:

 

 

On the downside, it was a form letter. On the upside, they actually got a response. Undaunted, New Media Rights kept responding and following up.  After a week of Youtube sending the same form letter, Youtube sent this on February 19th:

 

 

Progress! At least it wasn’t the same form letter anymore. And their response made it seem a real person was finally reading these emails. New Media Rights kept going, and I was hopeful...

 

To Youtube Legal:

This email is in response to the form letter received by support on February 19th in regards to Youtube user FortressOf Attitude. I hope this clarifies some issues. Is there anyone who can specifically attend to the points in our emails?

You are ultimately responsible for your traffic, so fully research any service that promises to promote or curate your YouTube channel.

No-one curated or promoted the video or the channel. It has already been in 100% control of Pat Stango (the user who runs the FortressOf Attitude account). 

YouTube cannot audit or certify specific 3rd party programs to verify that they comply with our policy. 

No non-organic promotion techniques were used. There is nothing to verify or certify.

If we determine that suspicious actions are being done by a specific entity, they risk being blocked from our service and accessing our APIs, and having any related accounts suspended.

The major point of our initial email is that Youtube's algorithm for determining suspicious actions, for whatever reason, made a mistake and flagged the video, P.S. Gay Car <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOnnoTiX05w> inappropriately for a Section H violation. It has never been promoted or curated by a third party. No views have been falsified.

Again, Youtube has a legal obligation to enforce its terms fairly and accurately, so we're asking you to human review this error and fix it. 

As I said before, although this may not be of huge importance to YouTube, this is important to Pat to be resolved. The Section H violation email he received, explained that if a terms violation were to happen again, Youtube would delete their entire account. Since this first terms violation was a false flag, you can understand how this may be scary to a group that has spent time and money contributing to the Youtube community. They are afraid that if Youtube makes another "mistake" their account could be deleted at any moment.

Please human review my previous emails or the original emails with the extra explanatory details of this situation. I look forward to clearing up this situation amicably. You may contact me at support@newmediarights.org, via my cell phone at XXX-XXX-XXXX, or by replying to this email.

…until Youtube responded with this on March 7th.

 


Wait? What “reasons” were “previously stated?” We investigated further:

Hi legal,

While we appreciate that this letter was not a form reply, and we acknowledge YouTube's interest in keeping it's system clear of robot-generated views, I want to make it clear that there were no "reasons" stated for not restoring the content, only conclusions.

Our claim is that the video in question was falsely flagged due to a mistake with the Section H takedown algorithm. We assert that there was no service involved in promoting the Youtube channel or video. You reason (copied below) doesn't respond to this at all.

You are ultimately responsible for your traffic, so fully research any service that promises to promote or curate your YouTube channel.

Instead, it just suggests again that there was a service involved hired by Pat to artificially inflate the view counts of his videos.

We simply want a reporting of why this was flagged when there were no activities that violated the terms of service going on. A simple human review of the video's traffic sources will probably show very quickly that all of the traffic generated to the video was appropriate.

And that was over a week ago. That email on March 7th was the last thing we’ve heard from Google.

So despite New Media Rights’ persistence and best efforts for more than a month, so far they have received nothing more than automatically generated form responses that do not address any of the specifics of our situation. Which leads to two conclusions:

  1. Google has no human employees. They are all ROBOTS.
  2. We’re not going to be able to get this video reinstalled (and our good names cleared) without the help of the public.

So you might be asking yourself: “What’s the big deal about getting this silly video case resolved? Why should I spend my time on this instead of, I dunno, helping poor children in Africa?” To that we say, yes, if you need to choose between publicizing our unfair situation with Google OR helping to feed a poor child, definitely do the latter. But you can probably do both!

There are a few reasons why this case is so important to us. Firstly we are basically hobbyists, and we spent a great deal of time, effort, and our own money in making this project. All the actors in the video were paid, as was the owner of the car. As silly as it seems, the moderate success of that video was very important to our fledgling comedy group. View counts are an important tool in pitching media agencies, trying to land touring gigs, etc.

Even more importantly, YouTube's initial email also told us that if this were to happen again, they would delete our entire account. This is frankly terrifying, because that account contains several years of our work (videos, views, subscribers, etc) and since this first violation was obviously a mistake on YouTube's part, that theoretical second violation (and account deletion) could come at any moment through no fault of ours at all.

Basically, ours is a case showcasing how YouTube can delete the work and the accounts of their users on a whim, without any chance for users to plead their case. (Hell, without any chance to interact with a live human at the company.) Frankly, we think it’s crazy for a business, with millions of users and customers around the world, to act in this manner and to be so unreachable.

We’ve been told there are a lot of other people that also got mistakenly caught in this Section H filter on the same day. We feel bad for those people because they’ve had to pay lawyers $100s an hour only to get those same form responses from Youtube’s legal department. At least we found lawyers who would help with this for free.

And aside from all that, “PS Gay Car” is an extremely positive, fun video with a very pro-gay rights message, and it’s terrible that viewers don’t have the option to enjoy and spread it around on YouTube.

Therefore we ask you, oh nameless faceless readers of this rambling letter, to help bring this issue to a wider attention. Tell Youtube that you don’t think it’s right for them to delete their users’ work in such an unfair manner. SPECIFICALLY tell them you want “PS Gay Car” to be reinstated immediately. Tweet and Facebook this post! (We’ll be tweeting @Google and using the hashtag #PSGayCar on tweets about this.) And then, if someday “PS Gay Car” does get rightfully reinstated, please like the video and share with your friends. (If you want to.)

Sincerely,

Pat Stango, Gregg Zehentner, Scott Barkan, Clayton Gumbert

Fortress of Attitude • FortressOfAttitude.com

 

PS. New Media Rights put a lot of work into trying to get our video back up for free and even helped share the story with the press. They’re a great organization, and it would be awesome if you could support them by donating a few bucks so they can help other people like us in the future. 
 

 

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