There Are Still Hundreds Of Pirated Movies On YouTube, And They're Hiding In Plain Sight

And with millions of total views. YouTube's weird — but almost certainly legal — blind spot.

A friend of mine was pretty sure that Harrison Ford piloted the plane, at least for a short time, in Air Force One, and he wanted proof. Early searches on YouTube didn't turn anything up — searches for copyrighted movie clips are hit or miss, and Google is vigilant about responding to takedown notices. When he finally found the clip, though, it was part of something else: a full-length, high-quality, unauthorized copy of the movie, right there on YouTube. It wasn't hidden behind a fake name, or bundled up in a secret playlist. It was right there in the search results: Harrison Ford - AIR FORCE ONE - Full Movie HD.

Even weirder — the related video sidebar was an unbroken list of other full-length movies, most of which were major releases, and many of which had hundreds of thousands of views:

So, what's happening here? These aren't shaky camcorder rip-offs, but HD videos that you could pull up on your laptop, or Apple TV, in a few seconds.

In YouTube's case, the onus is mostly on license owners to notify YouTube that something is wrong — if someone who does not own rights to the video posts it, it's usually up to the person that does own the rights to tell YouTube, "Hey, please take this down." And YouTube usually does. Swiftly, I'll add, and at the expense of "strikes" against the poster's account (three, and your account gets deleted). YouTube also uses opt-in fingerprinting to proactively identify some copyrighted content; try uploading a video with a popular song, for example, and YouTube will almost always catch it. The filter will catch films and TV shows as well.

But what about these? They're not getting caught by any kind of fingerprinting system, and despite obvious names, content owners aren't filing takedown notices. You could argue that a lot of these movies are older, and not a high priority for movie studios or distributors. But not really: Some of these are classics, and they've racked up hundreds of thousands of views. They're not rare, out-of-print niche titles — they're former blockbusters that still generate DVD and streaming sales.

Not to mention they're extremely easy to identify. Even the ones that don't use the movie's full name stand out, since there aren't a whole lot of hour-plus videos with hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.

So, then, the mystery remains: Why is YouTube — which, by the way, sells legitimate movie streams as a side business — hosting countless full-length studio movies on Google servers? And, perhaps the more important question, since there's no evidence that Google has received takedown notices for these films: Why don't their owners seem to care?

Update: A YouTube spokesperson has responded:

We've invested heavily in copyright and content management tools to give rights holders control of their content on YouTube. We support the DMCA notice and takedown process, and terminate the accounts of users with multiple copyright strikes. In addition, we partner with more than 4000 media companies on YouTube's Content ID system that gives rights holders an automated way to identify, block, promote and even make money from their content.

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