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Knitting YouTubers in Japan go to court over copyright infringement row

A screenshot of a knitting video on YouTube that was removed after the channel received a copyright infringement notification is shown in this image.

KYOTO -- A YouTuber in central Japan has filed a lawsuit with the Kyoto District Court against two other content creators in this western Japan city, demanding that they pay 1.1 million yen (about $10,362) in consolation money for having her knitting tutorial videos unfairly removed from YouTube due to abuse of the site's copyright infringement notification system.

    The plaintiff, a woman in her 40s from Toyama Prefecture, and the defendants, one of which is a woman in her 40s from the city of Kyoto, are all YouTubers who post videos on knitting. About 12,800 people are subscribed to the plaintiff's account, while the defendant's account has 30,500 subscribers. Each account shows the knitting process of pouches, bags, and other works, as well as the finished products.

    According to a lawyer for the plaintiff, who is an expert on issues regarding the notification system, this case is a rare nationwide example of a legal battle among YouTubers. The first round of oral statements took place on Aug. 19, in which the defendants demanded that the claims be dismissed.

    According to the complaint, the defendants submitted a copyright takedown notice in February 2020 for two videos on crocheting that were posted by the plaintiff. The YouTube notification system works in a way that it automatically removes videos upon receiving a notice. The plaintiff received a warning and the two videos were erased. The plaintiff sent an email to the defendants, including the message, "I am completely unaware of having imitated another person's work. I would like for you to tell me which video it is," but she allegedly only received a reply that included the statement, "Contact YouTube about your inquiries."

    On YouTube, channels that have received three warnings over copyright violations will be suspended, and all of the videos posted on the account will also be removed. Although the warning gets reset after 90 days, the plaintiff did not post any new videos during this period as she feared her account would be suspended.

    According to Aichi Bar Association lawyer Yukihide Kato, legal representative for the plaintiff, there have been no court judgments that recognized copyright of knitted works or knitting methods. Although YouTube asks creators to not send in false copyright infringement notifications, such reports are said to be a problem in the United States. The lawyer stated, "The system of removing videos automatically is also problematic."

    The defendants argued, "Even in the case of removal, the videos can easily be recovered by filing an objection, and the plaintiff herself abandoned the opportunity to release her videos."

    (Japanese original by Kanae Soejima, Kyoto Bureau)

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