The video has led to violence and death as muslims in certain areas have reacted angrily to it. But while Google policy is to abide by local national laws, the video is effectively protected by the constitution within the US. Withdrawal would thus amount to censorship, either by itself or by government. Such an act, either imposing its own or colluding with government censorship, is something Google strives to avoid.
Robert X. Cringely takes it further. Much of what stays up or comes down from YouTube is purely based on algorithms – if the algorithm says this music/video is copyrighted material, it comes down. “But this case is different,” says Cringely, “because it has less to do with algorithms than it has to do with intellectual property laws.”
YouTube, he explains, “lives and dies primarily by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).” The Safe Harbor element allows Google to pull infringing material on the say-so of the IP holder rather than face a never-ending stream of fines. But that same safe harbor imposes restrictions that require a hands-off approach to censorship.
“Making an exception,” says Cringely, “might set a legal precedent, their lawyers are worrying, and threaten the Safe Harbor. It would also lead to an infinitely expanded problem of people demanding YouTube pull videos just because they find them offensive.” Strictly speaking, the YouTube video does not contravene any IP regulations.
Cringely asks one more question: If Google readily obeys local national laws, why hasn’t Obama issued a presidential order? This would provide Google with a readymade escape route – it could remove the video because it has to.