May 30, 2023


YouTube’s system for catching copyrighted material, called Content ID, issued thousands of claims to users in early December after a policy change allowed copyright holders to make copyright claims on a wider range of videos. To get more specific, it especially affected users who have monetized their videos, which allows them to received ad revenue.

Content ID automatically goes through videos posted to YouTube and compares the content in them to a database. If there is a match, the video is flagged. The video can be de-monetized, allowing people to still view the video but removing any profit the uploader could’ve received and giving it to whoever has a copyright claim.  The user’s account can receive a strike if the video is removed and once the account collects three, the account is suspended and can no longer upload videos.

While people who use YouTube as a source of income aren’t the typical YouTube user, there are over a million of them. That’s over a million people whose income can potentially be affected by these claims.

And if these were all legitimate claims, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. But, several game companies have come out and said that they’ve had nothing to do with at least some of the claims.

“YouTubers: Pls let us know if you’ve had videos flagged today. These may be illegitimate flags not instigated by us,” tweeted Capcom. “We are investigating.”

Most companies don’t have a complete ban on their material being shown in videos. Ubisoft, for example, allows people to make ad revenue off footage of their games provided that the video follows certain rules.

Music in the game can be claimed as well, and it’s very likely that most of these claims are because of music. In an email response to users concerned about Content ID, YouTube gave tips on how to avoid copyright claims, with an emphasis on what to do with in-game music.

“Be aware of music. Many games allow you to turn off background music, while leaving sound effects enabled. And if you’re looking for music you can freely use (and monetize!), check out our Audio Library.”

The response to this sudden increase in automated claims was swift and largely negative. Several users released video blogs concerning the policy changes. But, one of the most interesting responses came after YouTube’s response. YouTube user Dan Bull’s YouTube diss track is a rap detailing how the system works, how it has been and can be manipulated and how sometimes mistakes can happen.

One of the examples is Gavin Dunne, a musician, who received seven claims in one day from INDMUSIC.

Except that the songs that were being claimed were written and performed by Dunne. It took him more than a day to get the claims removed, with INDMUSIC taking 20 per cent of the revenue from those videos until they were.

So what can YouTube do? They can’t, and they shouldn’t, just ignore copyright laws. But they can’t just allow the system to keep doing what it’s doing if the mistakes and manipulation are as frequent and as easy to make as they seem to be.

And right now, the system seems streamlined for the copyright holder. Claims affect channels and revenue is redirected quickly, while counterclaims can take much longer, especially when dealing with things a bit more malicious than the mistake that led to the flagging of Dunne’s content.

It isn’t like I don’t expect YouTube and other sites like it to stumble trying to find a happy medium when it comes to copyright infringement. Copyright and the Internet, as well as copyright and things like “let’s plays,” are mostly unexplored territory. YouTube has been around less than a decade, compared to pretty much every other kind of media.

A good start might be to apologize or at least acknowledge the faults in the Content ID system.  Even if this won’t actually fix any of the problems, it would at least show their users that they are listening and taking their comments into account. Then YouTube should work to fix the system so it works for both the users and copyright holders.

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