May 24, 2012 at 4:44 PM ET
In what seemed to be a repeat of the great "Hitler Reacts" YouTube takedown of 2010, an original version of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" video used to Rickroll Web denizens was removed from YouTube on the grounds of copyright infringement. Thank God it appears to have been only temporary.
In case you've just arrived from the very distant past, "Rickrolling" is a "bait-and-switch practice that involves providing a Web link supposedly relevant to the topic at hand, but actually re-directs the viewer to" Astley's 1987 video, according to Know Your Meme, scholarly repository of all things.
On Wednesday, TorrentFreak reportedthat due to a copyright complaint from AVG Technologies, the originalRickroll video has been removed fromYouTube," sending the meme-loving Internet into a fit of apoplexy. The YouTube page features more than a few comments by momentarily outraged YouTube users. (The funniest from MrTimthos: "I was scared. I thought he had finally given me up.")
But as of this posting, the Astley video, bearing the title "RickRoll'D," is very much available, and has over 61 million views. To keep an eye on its status, we're embedding it here:
Even though the video quickly reappeared, the mystery remains. Was the "RickRoll'D" video a victim of YouTube's notoriously problematic Content ID copyright filter, or some other glitch in the system? AVG Technologies is an anti-virus software maker, and is highly unlikely to be a stakeholder in the Astley music empire, so this takedown makes no sense.
Neither AVG or Google, YouTube's parent company, have answered msnbc.com's requests for comment, but one thing is clear: YouTube's process of "take down first, ask questions later" still has more than a few bugs.
The most notorious use of YouTube's Copyright ID system in recent memory occurred in April 2010, when Constantin Films disappeared the "Hitler Reacts" videos from YouTube.
"Hitler Reacts" — also known as "Hitler Finds Out About" — is another popular YouTube phenomenon, in which subtitles from the 2004 German film “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”), are changed to make Hitler rage about everything from Mitt Romney's dog riding on top of the car to the Führer's own thwarted trip to “Burning Man.”
Oliver Hirschbiegel, the director of this very serious film, is a self-professed fan of this very silly meme. The producers behind movie, Constantin Films, not so much.
As EFF noted at the time of the "Hitler Reacts" removals, once videos are taken down, "YouTube users do have options to respond. But YouTube's procedures for 'removing' videos have created considerable confusion among users." (You can read EFF's Guide to YouTube Removals for details.)
The "Hitler Reacts" parodies all fell under fair use, which permits limited use of copyright material for purposes such as commentary. As such, they are again raging free on YouTube.
However, Wednesday's "RickRoll'D" disappearance may not be a copyright controversy at all.
On YouTube, the policy is take down first, ask questions after people start to complain. A glitch in the Content ID system may be behind the momentary loss of RickRoll'D, EFF attorney Julie Samuels speculated in a phone interview.
Sometimes, the difference between copyright protection, free speech and a glitch in the system gets decided after the fact.
There was that time in 2007 when Prince was less than pleased about that baby on YouTube dancing to his barely audible "Let's Go Crazy." YouTube yanked the video in 2007 after receiving a takedown notice from Universal Music Publishing Group, reportedly at the artist’s behest.
The kid’s mom turned to EFF, which cried "Shenanigans!" over Universal’s misuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Eventually, the groundbreaking video got back on YouTube, where it cleared the way for all the "Single Ladies (Put A Ring on It)" babies of today.
Sometimes the takedowns are more serious than just a Prince song.
In 2009, YouTube disabled the entire account of the non-profit group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), following a controversy involving the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Long story short, after the EFF got involved, the PRCA settled with the charity, paying it $25,000 for the improper removals.
"We want to make sure therights are protected for those whose speech removed from the Internet forpotentially weeks or in some cases longer, especially if that speech is forsome reason timely," Samuels told me.