Summary: The internet is the way that many new musical artists get discovered these days, with perhaps the most famous story being that of that of Justin Bieber on YouTube. Some of this came from finding undiscovered musicians who had talent, and some of it came from finding otherwise unsigned artists who had managed to build large followings themselves.
Of course, this latter situation also opened up the possibility of gaming the system to appear more popular than you are in reality. Partly in response to this -- and more likely to prevent gaming views in order to gain advertising revenue -- YouTube put in place a policy of removing videos that appeared to use automated systems to game the number of views.
An independent musician by the name of Darnaa sought to gain a following via YouTube, and engaged in a marketing campaign designed to drive traffic and popularity to her videos. In 2012 she had uploaded a video that had received nearly 1.9 million views according to YouTube’s counter. In 2013, another video received over 1.1 million views. In 2014, she uploaded a new video, for a song entitled Cowgirl, which started receiving views as well. Darnaa claimed that these came from a coordinated marketing campaign that cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
YouTube, however, believed that the views on the video were inflated through artificial means, violating the terms of service. Rather than simply removing the video, or shutting down Darnaa’s videos, the service simply moved the video to a new URL, resetting the counter (and breaking earlier links to the video). Darnaa sent an email complaining about this, and convinced her marketing partners to restart the marketing campaign, leading to YouTube relocating the video a second time, which again, reset the view counter.
Darnaa’s music label, the conveniently named Darnaa, LLC. then sued YouTube arguing that moving the location of the video was both a breach of contract, and interference with her business dealings.
Decisions to be made by YouTube:
- How should a service like YouTube determine which videos are getting legitimate traffic compared to which are generated traffic through artificial means, such as bots?
- Is it possible to distinguish a heavy marketing campaign to point traffic to a video from methods involving artificially generated views?
- In which cases should a video that has received artificial views be moved to a different location (cutting off old links and restarting a counter) as compared to being removed entirely?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
- Will fighting back against artificially inflated views lead to false accusations?
- Could actions designed to stop artificial view inflation impact a legitimate marketing campaign?
- Should musicians and labels rely heavily on things like “views” to determine the actual popularity of an artist when they might be manipulated?
Resolution: After many twists and turns, the lawsuit Darnaa LLC filed against Google was dismissed at both the district court and the appeals court, though much of the dismissal was due to the case being filed after the statute of limitations had passed. However, the court also rejected the parts of the case that survived the statute of limitations questions, noting that YouTube was effectively entitled to manage its service as it saw fit, including how it treated Darnaa’s videos.
Written by The Copia Institute, April 2021