Blocking Syria’s Children

The BBC’s Intellectual Property Department has confirmed (March 2019) that videos containing over 30 seconds of footage from the 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children are automatically blocked from YouTube.

However it has not explained why Saving Syria’s Children – referred to as “the Programme” – has been singled out for this special treatment when countless other Panorama editions are available in their entirety on the platform.

BBC IP Legal’s statement came in response to a challenge by former BBC and ITV journalist Anna Brees whose short video about Saving Syria’s Children (see tweet below) was removed from YouTube within a few minutes of being uploaded, accompanied by the statement “This video contains content from BBC Studios who has blocked it on copyright grounds”.

Here is BBC IP Legal’s full response to Anna Brees:

From: IP Litigation <>
Date: 28 March 2019 at 17:33:03 GMT
To: “‘Brees Media'” <>
Subject: RE: BBC Panorama Saving Syria’s Children

Dear Anna

Thank you for your patience while we have been investigating this matter.

Your video was blocked from being published on YouTube because it was identified by YouTube’s Content ID system as containing footage from the BBC Panorama programme, ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ (the Programme). The Content ID system is used by content owners like the BBC/BBC Studios to identify and manage their content on YouTube. In practice this means that any videos uploaded to YouTube by third parties containing more than 30 seconds of footage from the Programme will be automatically blocked, which was the case here.

We have now reviewed your video (via the link on Twitter). We note that you have used approximately 1 minute 13 seconds of footage from the Programme, which is more than half the actual length of your video (2 minutes 20 seconds). While we appreciate that you wish to use the footage for the purposes of criticism, review or quotation, from a copyright fair dealing perspective our view is that you have used more footage than was necessary to illustrate the points you were making. As you may be aware, fair dealing usually involves a short, illustrative use of another person’s copyright material within a longer work created by the person using it. The fairness requirement means that you should use no more material than is required to illustrate the specific point you are making. In this instance we consider that it would have been possible to have made the same points while using less footage from the Programme.

However, if you still wish to upload any videos to YouTube containing footage from the Programme please ensure that you use no more than 30 seconds of footage in any single video.

We hope that is helpful.

Yours sincerely

BBC IP Legal
BC2 B6 Broadcast Centre 201 Wood Lane London W12 7TP

The now defunct BBC commercial subsidiary, BBC Worldwide, began blocking YouTube copies of Saving Syria’s Children in July 2014, five months after I had begun to include links to a YouTube copy of the programme in my complaints emails to the corporation and publishing my emails and the BBC’s replies on my blog. By the end of July 2014 at least four copies of Saving Syria’s Children had been removed from YouTube. 

In response to my querying the reason for the blockings BBC Worldwide’s Brand Protection team stated on 1 August 2014:

BBC Worldwide is not specifically blocking this Panorama and not others, the blocks are made by the automated YouTube copyright protection system.

As this is a relatively new Panorama, the illegal uploads are blocked faster than older and archive episodes which can take up to 6 months for the YouTube system to find and block.

The sheer volume of BBC produced/invested content means that the Brand Protection team can only scratch the surface in terms of removing infringing content from YouTube, so it is difficult to protect everything in the archive – including Panorama – immediately. The priority is to protect the newest episodes and work backwards, and this is true of all new content that the BBC produce, regardless of programme strand.

I pointed out in reply that this rationale – “to protect the newest episodes and work backwards” – did not appear to hold water as a far from exhaustive search on 2 August 2014 located YouTube copies of 25 editions of Panorama which were broadcast by the BBC subsequent to Saving Syria’s Children.

BBC Worldwide responded two days later:

There are many factors involved in the automatic removal of copyright infringing material from YouTube. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose the inner working of the YouTube system, as this is commercially sensitive information that could be used by members of the public to attempt to circumvent the protection mechanisms.

However, I can once again assure you that the Brand Protection Team has not been pursuing a deliberate policy of seeking out or blocking this episode of Panorama above others. Once we have provided YouTube with the information they need to identify our content, the system is automated. We can, of course, intervene to request that YouTube takes down specific posts. However, I can confirm that there has been no such intervention by the Brand Protection Team with regard to the episode of Panorama in question.

Thank you for highlighting those episodes of Panorama that are still live on YouTube, we will look into removing these as soon as possible.

Of the 25 newer editions of Panorama than Saving Syria’s Children that BBC Worldwide said they would “look into removing.. soon as possible” in August 2014, ten remain available on YouTube in March 2020. This is in addition to the scores of subsequent editions, including the most recently broadcast Panorama at the time of writing Coronavirus – The Week That Changed Britain, which was uploaded to YouTube on 24 March 2020.

The BBC’s protestation that it “has not been pursuing a deliberate policy of seeking out or blocking this episode of Panorama above others” appears increasingly hollow.