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YouTube reconsiders removal of artistic nudity

February 26, 2010 |  2:34 pm
ElementYouTube screen capture of Amy Greenfield's "Element"

YouTube is no prude when it comes to art -- when it actually takes the time to appreciate the work.

After censorship watchdogs gave the video hosting giant a public undressing for its removal of videos by artist Amy Greenfield that contained nudity, the company made amends.

The internationally recognized artist's videos "Element" and "Tides" were recently zapped from YouTube, and Greenfield received a notice from the Google-owned company saying she had run afoul of the site's "community standards." She was also told that uploading another violating video would result in her account being banned.

The National Coalition Against Censorship and the Electronic Frontier Foundation both chimed in this week in support of Greenfield.

"If a user community video is flagged as inappropriate, YouTube should at least have an appeals process to allow an artist to explain the artistic merit," EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl wrote on the organization's blog. "While we understand YouTube's desire to keep pornography off its servers, it must also understand that not all nude art is pornographic."

YouTube's guidelines allow for nudity in "some educational, documentary and scientific content, but only if that is the sole purpose of the video and it is not gratuitously graphic," but the guidelines do not attempt to make the distinction for art. (Possibly because anyone could claim anything as art.)

The removal seems to be a case of overly swift action. YouTube spokeswoman Victoria Grand was quick to note that the service receives "20 hours of video uploaded every minute." The company relies on users to flag what they deem inappropriate content.

"We review all flagged content quickly, and if we find that a video does violate the guidelines, we remove it, usually in under an hour," Grand said in an e-mail. "Occasionally, videos flagged by users are mistakenly taken down."

Facebook, a company that also relies heavily on user moderation, employs more than 100 people worldwide to review flagged content and nix inappropriate postings.

The EFF applauded YouTube for reinstating Greenfield's videos but called for a revision to the website's removal process.

"The fact that it took two nationally known groups to bring this matter to YouTube's attention is troubling," Opsahl wrote. "It demonstrates that YouTube still has work to do to create a viable appeals process."

-- Mark Milian