UPDATE: Victory! YouTube has responded to our letter and restored Amy Greenfield’s videos to its site.
On February 22, 2010, the NCAC and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), sent a letter to YouTube protesting the removal of work by internationally recognized video artist Amy Greenfield. Greenfield’s videos were taken down because they were allegedly counter to YouTube’s “community standards.” NCAC and EFF are urging the company to make sure YouTube’s community guidelines are applied judiciously and that a viable appeals process is put in place so that material of clear artistic, political or educational merit is not excluded from the site in the future.
NCAC applauds YouTube for so promptly responding to our letter and restoring Amy Greenfield’s videos to its site (there are still some technical glitches but we are assured these will be taken care of soon). We are glad the company affirms that creativity and free expression are values at the very core of its mission.
But some serious concerns remain. It seems that, still, there is no viable way for individuals to appeal decisions to remove content. What one can find in abundance as a result of a search on YouTube’s help page are entries from other users who had videos taken off, tried to appeal and were angry and frustrated as could find no way to do so.
We also urge YouTube to add “art” to the community guidelines exceptions “for educational, documentary and scientific content” where nudity is concerned. That will give YouTube staffers evaluating flagged videos clearer direction.
Zahavah Levine, General Counsel & Vice President of Business Affairs
901 Cherry Ave.
San Bruno, CA 94066
February 22, 2010
Dear Ms. Levine:
On behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), an alliance of over 50 national non-profit organizations united in defense of free expression, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we write to express concern over YouTube’s removal of the work of internationally recognized video artist Amy Greenfield from its site. We urge you to reconsider this decision and allow the videos to be posted as soon as possible. We also encourage you to make sure YouTube’s community guidelines are applied judiciously and that a viable appeals process is put in place so that material of clear artistic, political or educational merit is not excluded from the site in the future.
Recently, Amy Greenfield received notice from YouTube that her works, Element and Tides, were counter to YouTube’s “community standards,” and that if she put one more video up that runs afoul of “community standards” her account would be terminated. (Though both works were removed from the artist’s account, Element is still available through the play list of Creative Thriftshop, Ms. Greenfield’s gallery: clearly there is no agreement between YouTube employees as to what constitutes impermissible content.) Soon thereafter the artist noticed that excerpts from two other works, Light Of The Body and Wildfire, were also removed. Ms. Greenfield contacted us because the removal of the videos interfered with her ability to share her work with the public through the Internet. She was also disturbed and angry that her work was treated as if it were obscene and that there was no possibility of contacting a YouTube employee to appeal the decision.
We were surprised to hear of the incident as, though we understand YouTube’s interest in not being overrun by commercial porn, we are dealing, in this case, with an internationally recognized artist. Noted scholars have called Ms. Greenfield “.today’s most important practitioner of experimental film-dance.” Her work has been presented to acclaim at The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and other leading art centers. She is the recipient of numerous prestigious grants. In short, she is a well-regarded artist whose work deserves to be seen by the wide public YouTube reaches.
Not everyone can make it to a gallery or a museum – and that is why YouTube performs such a valuable service by making video available to worldwide audiences. It would be regrettable if this unprecedented access to information falls victim to unreasonably censorious policies that are subjectively and arbitrarily applied. YouTube’s own community guidelines allow nudity in site postings if it is not “sexually explicit” and if it has “some educational, documentary and scientific content, but only if that is the sole purpose of the video and it is not gratuitously graphic.” We note that artistic depictions go unmentioned in the guidelines, yet images of nudes are integral to the history of art. Does YouTube intend, in its zeal to protect its “community,” that the world’s artistic heritage be banned from view? Few institutions are more public; few have equal reach. You control a primary source of information, and we strongly urge you to weigh the profound implications of this responsibility.
We hope that YouTube adheres more closely to Google’s own standards of free circulation of information. Censorship of art will inevitably damage YouTube and Google’s reputation and your own legacy.
With all of the above in mind, we urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that Ms. Greenfield’s work is displayed without restriction. If you seek help in determining a clear policy by which to move forward, we will be pleased to help you in its articulation.
Director of Programs
National Coalition Against Censorship
Cindy A. Cohn
Electronic Frontier Foundation