Anyone whose participation in the YouTube community goes beyond staring at videos of cats walking up and down piano keyboards will be aware of the message that greets you when you upload a clip to the site. "Do not upload TV shows, music videos or commercials without permission," it says, "unless they consist entirely of content that you created yourself."
This warning, however, seems to be taken by most people as a bit of casual advice along the lines of "I wouldn't go out without an umbrella if I were you". After all, the site is awash with concert footage, sporting moments and comedy clips, most of which have been put there by the public in direct contravention of the rules. In fact, it's partly this wholesale disobedience that has made YouTube so popular.
Which might suggest that there are no consequences for uploading copyrighted material, so we may as well embark in a frenzy of video sharing. But your shamefaced technology correspondent had his entire YouTube account closed down last week; most of my uploads were personal videos, but on three occasions I'd put up TV clips that I wanted to draw people's attention to on various blogs.
I won't bother trying to elicit sympathy – after all, I broke the rules. If I'd had a case to argue I could have served a counternotice and possibly got my video and indeed my account back. But it did make me wonder about about the countless YouTube videos that infringe copyright but neverthless stay online.
They fall into three categories: either the copyright holder doesn't know it's there (although more of them are being notified immediately these days by joining YouTube's Content ID system) or they simply don't care, or, as is increasingly common, they choose to leave it online while receiving a cut of proceeds from advertising. But – as I found the hard way – you can never guarantee the benevolence of copyright holders. So if you are going to take your chances, and you value the videos you've uploaded over the years, at least make sure you have them all backed up. Just like I didn't.