The Washington Post reports that YouTube has removed Korean Central Television’s channel, fearing that it needed to do so to avoid breaching U.S. sanctions on North Korea. The removed channel was a Nork propaganda outlet that broadcast both unintentional comedies, such as outings by the super-sized dictator, Kim Jong Un, as well as Nork fake news broadcasts. Researchers and Nork watchers found the channel to be an invaluable resource in keeping track of what is going on North Korea, even if much of these broadcasts needed to be taken not with a grain of salt but with an entire salt mine.
Although Google is mum about why the channel was killed, the Post quotes a supposed explanation from somebody named Josh Stanton, a blogger who appears to work for the U.S. government in his spare time. Josh said that the reason was “YouTube and Google probably realized there was a problem with money changing hands.” Er, no, Josh.
The issue with respect to the Nork YouTube channel arises from Executive Order 13722, issued in March 2016, which prohibits exports of services to North Korea. Prior to that there were restrictions, enforced by BIS, on exports of goods to North Korea, and restrictions, enforced by OFAC, on dealing with blocked North Koreans. Providing distribution of Korean Central Television’s broadcasts over YouTube would clearly be the export of a service to North Korea in violation of Executive Order 13722.
But, and this is a big but, there is the information exception, enacted by the Berman amendment and ignored by Mr. Stanton and the Washington Post. The information exception prevents the President from prohibiting the “importation from any country … whether commercial or otherwise, regardless of format or medium of transmission, of any information.” See 50 U.S.C. § 1702(b)(3)(emphasis supplied). The italicized language is pretty much game over for the arguments by Mr. Stanton and the Post that ad money was the problem.
What would be a problem is if there were any indications (and there are not) that Google and YouTube were editing or marketing the content. OFAC has been quite clear that it does not think that such services are covered by the information exception (although it does allow those services, through various general licenses, for private individuals in sanctioned countries). If the Norks upload their nonsense and YouTube permits it to be downloaded, there is no violation of the sanctions even if somehow ad revenue makes its way back to North Korea (which itself seems doubtful).
While waiting (don’t hold your breath) for the return of Korean Central Television to YouTube, you might want to watch this riveting North Korean news broadcast showing the Dear Leader visiting an amusement park, a kitchen (with hamburgers! which he doesn’t eat!!) and a zoo.