YouTube has become the latest social media site to block President Trump’s Nickelback Joe Biden meme video on questionable copyright grounds. The video quickly went viral on Twitter when it was posted yesterday and amassed over 12 million views.
The meme video (reupload) featured a clip of Vice President Joe Biden saying that he’d never spoken to his son about his overseas business dealings followed by a clip from Nickelback’s music video for the song “Photograph” which features lead singer Chad Kroeger holding a photograph up to the camera. In Trump’s version, the photograph Kroeger is holding has been replaced with a photo of Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, and a Ukrainian gas executive.
The meme is a reference to a current corruption scandal Joe Biden is facing after he told an audience of foreign policy experts that he threatened to pull US loan guarantees from Ukraine, while he was serving as Vice President in March 2016, unless the country immediately fired a prosecutor who was leading a corruption investigation into a gas company where Hunter Biden was on the board of directors.
Hours after Trump’s tweet started to gain traction, the video was removed and replaced with a copyright claim notice.
Facebook followed suit shortly after and removed the video from Trump’s post.
Now YouTube has also taken the video down from the official channel of The White House and replaced it with a copyright notice which reads: “This video contains content from WMG, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”
According to Rich Stim, an attorney who provides information on intellectual property, parody is usually protected under fair use – a provision in copyright law that allows the use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright owner for “transformative” purposes such as commenting, criticizing, or parodying the work:
“Judges understand that, by its nature, parody demands some taking from the original work being parodied. Unlike other forms of fair use, a fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted in a parody in order to “conjure up” the original.”
Despite Trump’s video clearly being a parody which would qualify for these fair use protections, YouTube and the other social media giants have complied with the demands of the copyright holders and taken this video down.
This isn’t the first time Trump has had a viral meme blocked as a result of questionable copyright claims. In February, one of his meme videos featuring the REM song “Everybody Hurts” was blocked after a copyright claim from Universal. The video was reuploaded with a new song – Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” – but then taken down again after another copyright claim. In April, a viral video featuring music from The Dark Knight Rises was also removed from Trump’s Twitter account after a Warner Bros. copyright claim.
As the 2020 presidential campaign heats up and the social media giants appear to disregard these fair use protections, filing questionable copyright claims could become an increasingly prevalent tactic that’s used to stop the spread of Trump’s often viral meme videos.
YouTube’s creator community has been highly critical of its copyright claim system which is often used by copyright holders to censor content they don’t want people to see. One recent example of this is the Borderlands 3 superfan Supmatto having his entire YouTube channel terminated after the publishers took issue with him reporting on leaked information and then appeared to file multiple copyright claims against his channel until it was removed. Disney has also previously used copyright claims to silence criticism of Captain Marvel.
While YouTube has attempted to improve the situation by preventing copyright holders from using its manual claim tool to monetize short or unintentional uses of music and sometimes suing those who are accused of abusing the copyright system, the problems are far from resolved. And this most recent example with Trump shows that even he and the official YouTube channel of The White House aren’t immune to the effects of YouTube’s broken copyright system.
Beyond YouTube’s flawed copyright system, the tech giants are increasingly cracking down on memes so this is another factor that’s could prevent Trump from spreading his message through this viral medium. In July, Instagram mass purged meme accounts with over 30 million total followers. And in August, Instagram announced that memes would start to be fact-checked and suppressed on the platform.