SpaceX launch footage was taken down thanks to bogus copyright claim


contentID is why we can’t have nice things —

The public domain video was restored to the public, but this happens a lot.

Kate Cox

The Falcon 9 rocket climbs to space on Saturday.

Enlarge / The Falcon 9 rocket climbs to space on Saturday.

Trevor Mahlmann

This weekend’s launch, in which SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the two astronauts on board from Florida safely into space, was amazing, awe-inspiring, and frankly, just plain cool to watch. And here in the age of inexpensive, tiny high-definition cameras and streaming content, it should be easy to catch up on it if you missed it—or even if you just want to watch it again for fun. But for most of the weekend and into this morning, you couldn’t watch it at all, thanks to copyright content ID bots working overtime.

The May 30 launch was streamed live to NASA’s YouTube channel and then archived, along with several shorter clips and highlights taken from the day-long livestream. NASA footage, like photo and video from other government agencies, is generally published into the public domain, not under copyright, and other entities can mirror or rebroadcast it. National Geographic also covered the launch, and its footage incorporated some of the NASA content. Then things got stupid.

By Sunday, the archival NASA video was no longer available to view, Twitter users spotted, because of a copyright claim from National Geographic. Attempts at that time to play back some of the NASA videos resulted in an error message saying, “Video unavailable: This video contains content from National Geographic, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”

NASA got involved by Sunday and pushed the companies for a fix. “Over the last few days our team at NASA has been in touch with YouTube who escalated the issue,” NASA Communications Director Bettina Inclán said on Twitter Sunday night. “We also have been in contact with NatGeo who is committed to releasing the claims for Demo-2 coverage.”

In the end, it appears that YouTube, NASA, and National Geographic got their issues sorted out. By 9:30am Eastern time this morning, the videos were restored and playable, and you can once again watch the launch to your heart’s content.

It keeps happening

Unlike Saturday’s launch, however, this content ID claim was not a historic first but instead part of a familiar pattern. Almost this exact problem occurred back in 2012, when other businesses—in that case, the Scripps broadcast companies—improperly filed copyright claims against NASA hosting its own videos. The same happens to independent third parties who use public domain NASA footage.

YouTube introduced an appeals process for automated content ID claims in late 2012. For users whose videos get flagged—even when those videos use public domain content—the process for having them restored can still be challenging and esoteric.

That system is also exploitable. Last year, YouTube reached a $25,000 settlement with a Nebraska man over allegations that he abused copyright claims to extort other YouTubers by threatening them with bogus takedown requests unless they paid him money.

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