Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch
There are three constants in life: death, taxes and the “lofi hip hop radio — beats to relax/study to” YouTube stream. That is, until YouTube falsely hit the Lofi Girl channel with a DMCA takedown, bringing the beloved streams offline for the first time in over 2 years.
With over 668 million views, the stream was one of YouTube’s most popular places for people to go when they wanted to listen to calming, yet engaging music while studying or working. Listeners sometimes used the stream’s live chat like an anonymized, distant study group, reminding each other to take breaks and drink water. So when the stream suddenly stopped, fans were worried.
YouTube is cluttered with hours-long streams of calming music, but the live nature of the “lofi hip hop radio” streams sets it apart. On the YouTube stream, which currently serves a “this live stream recording is not available” message, one of the top comments reads: “Hopefully it isn’t over yet, this stream is legitimately a hugely important part of YouTube culture.”
It’s true. Even beyond YouTube, Lofi Girl lives in spin-off communities, including the 30,000-member r/LofiGirl subreddit and a Lofi Girl Discord with 700,000 members. The animation accompanying the 24/7 livestream — a Studio Ghibli–inspired image of a girl wearing headphones and studying as her cat stares out the window at a cityscape — has been honored in cosplay, replicated by Will Smith and re-created on Cartoon Network’s YouTube channel with a character from “Steven Universe.”
Yesterday, Lofi Girl addressed the sudden takedown in a tweet, stating that “the lofi radios have been taken down because of false copyright strikes.” In response, fans of Lofi Girl circulated the tag #BringBackLofiGirl to get YouTube’s attention. Some even went as far as to spam and troll FMC Music, the Malaysian label that allegedly issued the false copyright complaint, while others created fan art.
Lofi Girl told TechCrunch that all of the channel’s music is released through its record label, Lofi Records, so they have the necessary rights to share it. Because Lofi Girl has the proper rights to the music, YouTube determined that the account is not in violation of copyright laws. The platform responded to Lofi Girl on Twitter Monday, saying that the missing livestream videos should be reinstated in 24 to 48 hours.
TechCrunch reached out to YouTube for comment, and a spokesperson linked us to the company’s existing response to Lofi Girl on Twitter.
If past precedent holds true, Lofi Girl’s next stream will have to start again from the beginning, rather than as a continuation of the existing 2-year-long stream. In 2020, the channel faced a similar problem when an accidental suspension ended its 13,000-hour stream. In that case, YouTube also owned up to its mistakes and reinstated the account, but the same issues have apparently returned.
“This event has shone a light on an underlying problem on the platform: It’s 2022, and there are countless smaller creators out there, many of which engaged in this discussion, that continue to be hit daily by these false claims on both videos and livestreams,” Lofi Girl wrote in a tweet.
Today, in YouTube’s reply to Lofi Girl, the company said that the takedown requests were “abusive,” meaning that they were leveraged as an attack against the channel, rather than out of actual concern for copyright violations. This behavior is incredibly common, but platforms have struggled to determine when these reports are legitimate and when they’re unsubstantiated.
“Unfortunately, we’re not entirely sure why FMC sent the complaint,” Lofi Girl told TechCrunch via Twitter message.
Repercussions for creators
Sometimes, these fraudulent DMCA takedowns can go to the extreme.
In March, a number of YouTube streamers playing Destiny noticed that they’d been slapped with copyright strikes. Even some videos from Bungie, Destiny’s developer, were affected and Bungie assured fans that it wasn’t behind these actions, making matters stranger.
As it turns out, a YouTuber called “Lord Nazo” had created gmail accounts impersonating Bungie’s copyright management firm and submitted 96 fraudulent complaints against high-profile Destiny YouTubers. Last month, Bungie sued the YouTuber for $7.6 million, saying that they wanted to make an example out of him.
Copyright law is sometimes murky, especially in emerging digital media, but video game streams are usually considered “fair use” since the works are transformative. You could even argue that YouTube videos like “The Entire Bee Movie but every time it says bee it speeds up by 15%” are transformative, which is probably why this genre of video remains prevalent online. After all, that “Bee Movie” parody in particular is only about 5 minutes long, compared to the 90-minute film.
The case with Bungie and “Lord Nazo” amplifies what YouTube fans have known for too long: the DMCA system is too easy to exploit. Fraudulent takedowns are especially problematic when leveraged against online creators who rely on YouTube ad revenue for income. Instagram creators have also been impacted by so-called ban-as-service scams, in which bad actors charge money to mass-report someone and get their account wrongly removed.
Startups like Notch have tried to pioneer an insurance industry for online creators, offering daily payouts in case they lose access to their account, but their service currently only covers hacks, not false bans. That leaves creators with few ways to protect themselves in the case of wrongful takedowns or bans. One popular VTuber, CodeMiko, has said she has nightmares about being banned from Twitch.
Perhaps because Lofi Girl is so iconic, the user behind the channel was able to get a response from YouTube soon after tweeting about the issue. But for smaller creators, this can be a seemingly impossible accomplishment.
“We’re shocked and disappointed to see that there’s still not any kind of protection or manual review of these false claims,” Lofi Girl wrote on Twitter. “At the end of the day, it was entirely out of our control, and the sad part is that there was no way to appeal beforehand/prevent it from happening.”
The good news is that Lofi Girl will soon be back at her desk, scribbling some notes alongside her orange cat and trusty headphones, listening to some chill beats.