Speaking as an atheist, the lengths numerous YouTube members are willing to go to in order to stifle dissenting voices. One can’t help but get the feeling of certain desperation not to have their viewpoints challenged, perhaps out of fear of an embarrassing loss of some sort. However, while the behavior is undoubtedly juvenile and wrong-hearted, there are numerous reasons why I would, in all honesty, take offense at the notion that false Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claims ought to be considered a hate crime.
The DMCA was chiefly written to protect content distributors like YouTube from being attacked with legal action if a copyrighted work is found on their website. The law affords YouTube the ability to remove a video at its discretion to prevent a lawsuit. Since there are more legitimate claims than not made, of, for example, TV episodes put online, YouTube’s default response is to remove the video in all cases, and this, naturally, means that dishonest claims are honored in this way as well.
YouTube is not, ultimately, in the wrong to behave in this way. According to the US Code Title 17 Section 512(g)(1), YouTube itself cannot be held “liable to any person for any claim based on the service provider’s good faith disabling of access to, or removal of, material or activity claimed to be infringing…regardless of whether the material or activity is ultimately determined to be infringing.” YouTube is, naturally, aware of the problem this poses and does what they can to minimize the negative effect on their community this can have, but is somewhat hamstrung by circumstance.
However, the person filing an illegitimate complaint has, to be clear, committed a crime in doing so. It amounts to a form of perjury and numerous cases have been taken to criminal and civil courts with fines up to $25,000. Such fines are, naturally, for owned intellectual property with demonstrable income lost from the false claim, and as many of the Atheist videos targeted in this way tend not to be made for a significant profit, it is not necessarily comparable.
In one of the more notable cases of anti-atheist DMCA abuse, YouTube user VenomFangX filed a series of complaints against user Thunderf00t in the Fall of 2008 for a series of videos that commented on several of VenomFangX’s own. Thunderf00t mounted a strong legal defense, won easily, and VenomFangX was agreed to make a public apology on YouTube for his behavior, stating it was an error on his part due to bad advice and a misunderstanding of the law, which is how many such cases are resolved.
False claims – Not A Hate crime
This basic fact is why it is difficult to consider such false claims as a form of Hate crime. Forget that filing a false claim is, naturally, not a violent crime and would be, to say the least, atypical of other hate crimes. Forget that these false claims are coming from, commonly, confused juveniles emulating the behavior of internet trolls. Forget that hate crime legislation is, in the best of intentions, a tool for correcting a level of institutionalized social inequality that atheists have never suffered and never really will.
The key fact remains that a false DMCA claim is a matter that can be settled with a public apology. True, YouTube can and will do more to police abuse of this practice, and the law does, naturally, need to be more reflective of how it can more properly be used. But at the end of the day, these ‘criminals’ will, if anything, be sentenced to saying the words “I’m sorry.” And they are, to be sure, sorry individuals, for wasting the time of the courts as they have in an attempt to, of all things, silence atheism on the internet, but “Hate Criminals” they are not.