Google has sued a resident of Omaha, Nebraska for allegedly falsely accusing YouTube content creators of copyright infringement in order to extort money from them.
In a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, Google alleges that Christopher Brady used at least 14 fake identities to send bogus takedown notices to YouTube.
The first notices, which date to January, claimed that two videos posted by “Kenzo,” and two videos posted by “ObbyRaidz” infringed Brady's copyright, according to the complaint.
“Brady’s notices of alleged infringement were fraudulent,” Google alleges in its complaint. “The videos posted by Kenzo and ObbyRaidz that Brady identified in his notices did not infringe any copyright supposedly owned by Brady. Brady knew that at the time he sent the notices.”
Kenzo's YouTube channel has more than 60,000 subscribers, while ObbyRaidz's has more than 10,000 subscribers, according to the lawsuit. Both users -- who frequently post clips relating to Minefield -- participate in the YouTube Partner program and can earn ad revenue through their clips.
After Brady sent the notices, he offered to rescind them in exchange for payment, according to the lawsuit. He demanded that ObbyRaidz pay either $150 through PayPal or $75 via bitcoin, and that Kenzo pay either $300 through PayPal or $200 in bitcoin, according to the complaint.
In January, ObbyRaidz asked for help in a video he posted to YouTube. He said in the clip that his channel would be terminated if he was accused for a third time of copyright infringement.
When Google receives a notice alleging that a user as infringed copyright, the company typically removes the clip, following the procedure set out by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Google also follows its “three-strikes” policy, which involves terminating channels of uploaders whose material has been the subject of three takedown notices in a 90-day period.
“I've been striked twice, and basically extorted, and if I don't pay this dude, he's going to strike a third one of my videos,” ObbyRaidz says in the clip. “It's very unfortunate, and YouTube has not really done very much ... for me. I can't get in contact with them.”
Google says in the complaint that it didn't learn of the alleged fraud and attempted extortion until Kenzo and ObbyRaidz went public.
The complaint also alleges that this summer, Brady sent four bogus takedown notice for clips posted by a third user, Cxlvxn. According to the complaint, Brady was involved in a dispute with Cxlvxn, and hoped to prod him into submitting a counter notification that would reveal his home address.
Cxlvxn submitted that counter-notice on July 4. Six days later, he said on Twitter that he been the victim of a “swatting” attempt -- meaning that someone had reported false information to the authorities in an attempt to bring police officers to his home.
Google is seeking damages and an injunction against Brady. The company is bringing the lawsuit under a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allows service providers to sue people who make false accusations of infringement.
In the past, people who have sued under that provision have had an uphill battle in court, according to Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who tracks those lawsuits.
He adds that in order to prevail, YouTube may have to show how it was harmed by the takedown notices. “Unquestionably YouTube's content creators were injured by the bogus takedowns -- but that's because YouTube honored them,” he says.
Goldman adds that Google may plan to argue it was harmed because it spent time and money investigating the allegations in the takedown notices.