When someone posts a harmful YouTube video about another person or organization, not only can this cause significant harm in and of itself, but it can also be difficult for the subject of the video to get it taken down.  Short of convincing the poster of the video to simply remove the video (which is entirely possible in some cases), it is likely necessary to get YouTube involved and hope that its legal department or administrators agree that the video should be deleted.

YouTube, the popular video-sharing website acquired by Google in 2006, is certainly willing to take down videos that warrant removal.  And, surely, most of the requests YouTube handles involve intellectual property infringement, more specifically copyright and some trademark issues.

To submit a complaint about legal issues with a YouTube video, the appropriate person (perhaps the harmed party’s attorney) can use the YouTube “Reporting Tool.”  For example, to report infringement of a business’s copyrighted work, the reporting person must:

  • select Copyright infringement;
  • select Copyright infringement again on the next page;
  • select “My company, organization or client”;
  • type or paste in the URL and select from the drop-down menu to describe the allegedly infringed work (which will trigger more items to fill out, depending on which item is chosen);
  • provide contact information necessary to submit a DMCA complaint;
  • check the five boxes (assuming it is appropriate to do so); and
  • digitally sign the complaint before clicking “Submit Complaint.”

When it comes to reporting defamation, among other non-copyright infringement issues, YouTube’s “Defamation Complaint page” indicates that YouTube does “not remove video postings due to allegations of defamation.”

However, pursuant to the Communications Decency Act, the defamed party can pursue legal action against the creator of the harmful content (which might involve issuing a subpoena to Google, Inc. for the personal identifying information) and obtain a court order requiring that the content creator remove the video.

Accordingly, there are two primary options that we recommend for requesting removal of defamatory YouTube content.  First, per the Defamation Complaint page, the party seeking removal of YouTube content can mail a court order to: YouTube, Inc., Attn Legal Support, 901 Cherry Ave., Second Floor, San Bruno, CA 94066

Second, a company’s legal counsel may consider – in lieu of obtaining a court order – mailing a letter to YouTube’s legal department outlining a specific violation of YouTube’s Community Guidelines and requesting that YouTube remove the video as a result.

For instance, YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit content that includes “threats, harassments, [and] intimidation” as well as attacks and other demeaning behavior.  If counsel can demonstrate violations, such as by providing exact quotes from the content that exhibits threatening or harassing language, for example, YouTube will consider removing the content — though, of course, submitting a court order is the more promising option.

Alternatively, it may be possible to privately message the poster of the video – typically, but not necessarily, also the content creator – through YouTube and attempt to get a video removed in that manner.  When privately messaging someone, it is important to avoid saying anything that could actually exacerbate the problem, such as causing the person to post even more harmful content.

Finally, in the event that a company’s counsel has successfully served a subpoena on Google and has obtained helpful identifying information from Google’s legal department, it is possible to contact the appropriate person outside of YouTube (e.g. via email or perhaps by phone or letter) based on the information recovered.

Parties seeking YouTube video removal should be aware that even when a video has been removed, it may take a few days before its URL disappears from YouTube search results and, in turn, from Google (although the content will not be viewable once it is removed).  Since YouTube is owned by Google, there should not be a need to submit a court order to get the URLs de-indexed from Google’s search results.