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Preventing video takedowns when reporting

Watching the stream of reporting from Egypt today, I've noticed some unconfirmed reports that videos of the events uploaded to YouTube have been taken down by the company.

I haven't been able to find any concrete examples, so I can't say whether this is true. YouTube takedowns did happen for a few of the more disturbing footage in the Tunisian protests, however, so I thought I'd give some general advice for preventing such removals.

In general, if you're uploading video that includes violence or upsetting imagery, YouTube may remove your content as a simple violation of its Terms of Service and Community Guidelines rather than consider its importance in a wider news context.

In its Community Guidelines, YouTube writes:
"The world is a dangerous place. Sometimes people do get hurt and it's inevitable that these events may be documented on YouTube. However, it's not okay to post violent or gory content that's primarily intended to be shocking, sensational or disrespectful. If a video is particularly graphic or disturbing, it should be balanced with additional context and information. For instance, including a clip from a slaughter house in a video on factory farming may be appropriate. However, stringing together unrelated and gruesome clips of animals being slaughtered in a video may be considered gratuitous if its purpose is to shock rather than illustrate."

What this means is that context is important. When you are using YouTube in your reporting, the best context you can provide is a detailed explanation in the Title, Description and Tags when you upload the video. Your audience may know what is going on because you are linking from your news site or blog, but YouTube's staff will not. Even a link back to your main writing will help.

Most importantly, don't use misleading descriptions or tags in an attempt to get more views. A scene from a street demonstration that is tagged "Lady Gaga" in order to catch a wider audience will simply result in your video being deleted.

Less likely in cases of reporting live events is an accusation of copyright infringement. YouTube does have an automatic content-detection system that can sometimes be triggered by music or movie imagery included in a video. EFF has a detailed document on restoring videos if you think that may be the problem.

If you do have journalistic content taken down by a hosting provider, whether it's video, a blog, or an entire website, do let me know (I'm dobrien at cpj.org, or @danny_at_cpj on Twitter). I can't always help in every case, but sometimes being able to see a trend in takedowns means I can warn these hosts that they're making a mistake - or warn off journalists from depending on their sites.

(Thanks to Jillian York at the Berkman Center for much of the advice in this post. Victoria Grand, YouTube's senior management for communications, spoke at the GlobalVoices Citizen Media Summit last year, and discussed how their takedown process works in some detail, with a particular eye to reporting and activism in countries like Egypt. If you want to know more details, I'd recommend watching the video of her talk.)

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Try and also have another copy uploaded to another service like Vimeo, if possible. That way you're not depending on the whim of one company.