Approximate reading time: 6 Minutes

YouTube  ·  Source:

As a maker of really interesting YouTube videos there are a few things that I hold as vital to the continued development of my channel – integrity, my YouTube “standing” and ad revenue. So, when it comes to the thorny issue of copyright you need to tread carefully in order to keep these things safe. In light of a recent copyright claim against one of my videos I’ve come to suspect that YouTube is being a bit speculative and opportunist, and that’s not nice.

YouTube monitors all uploaded videos with certain algorithms designed to spot unlicensed copyrighted material whether that’s visuals, music, film, games or other stuff that someone else owns. If the algorithms discover such material YouTube will issue a Content ID claim on the owner’s behalf. This may result in your video being blocked, muted or have its ad revenue redirected to the alleged owner. This can have a negative effect on your account standing, not to mention how all your hard work can’t be seen or that the tiny (but welcome) kickback is going into someone else’s pocket.

Of course using someone else’s material without permission and for your own gain is terribly bad form and, naturally, this sort of process is designed to stop people using copyrighted music or video to make their own money. But there are a lot of grey areas. For instance when reviewing a film the YouTuber would naturally put clips of that film into the video they are making. This is usually OK provided that the clip is talked over or has a talking head over the video so that it can’t be seen as anything other than a review. Similarly mash-ups and creative uses of copyrighted material in order to make something new is also tolerated and massively enjoyed by YouTube viewers.

It also depends on the owner. YouTube does stress that it’s not them that’s making the claim; although they provide the algorithms and mechanisms, it’s the owner. I had a Content ID claim against a video I made in August last year which took umbrage at the use of some video from the extraordinary film Samsara. The clip I used was taken from the freely available trailer, it had my talking head on it the whole time and lasted just 20 or 30 seconds while I gushed about how awesome the film was. The owners, Cinemien, allowed me to use it provided they claimed the monetisation for the whole video – this was 30 seconds out of a 20 minute news and review video.

When a claim comes in it’s quite scary. Although YouTube try to phrase it in a nice – “It’s OK, you don’t have to do anything” kind of way it clearly states that if you dispute the claim you risk getting your YouTube channel suspended – which is death to all the hours you’ve put into all your videos. So the understandable reaction to anyone who receives such a claim is to click the “please take the money and don’t hurt my channel” button – that’s what I did. Even though I used the video in what I believed was a “fair use” and creative manner I felt that the risk to my channel was too high. And what hope would I have disputing a claim from a huge company with all their lawyers and resources?

However, when I was slapped with a Content ID claim on completely, self-composed, original material it takes it to a whole other level. That’s what happened to me yesterday. It was minutes after I had posted a 47-minute-long video on running virtual instruments on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I was in the process of posting social media links to the video when I noticed the claim. I can’t see how in less time it takes to watch the video a human being could have spotted some content of theirs and made a decision on filing a claim. It has to be algorithm-based and automatic. YouTube states that “Copyright owners get to decide what happens when content in a video on YouTube matches a work they own.” Which essentially means that they’ve ticked a box that automatically makes a claim when a match comes in.

So what was the match? Well it was from about the 36 minute mark here:

And was said to run for a minute or two. I had written this little phrase in order to demonstrate a few soft synths – I had made it up on the spot. The match was with “Death Song No 1” but the claim contained no other information. After a bit of Googling I found that it appeared to be a song by Cathode Ray Eyes:

Now you tell me – how was that ever a match? Presumably the Content ID claim was filed by the record company Captcha Records in California who are trying to protect their artists. But how was this match ever made? The phrase also appeared in other places in the video that didn’t appeared to be matched; it was all very puzzling. My overwhelming impulsion was to click the “take my money and don’t hurt me” button as YouTube strongly encouraged me to do, but I was incensed at the injustice of it all. I’d spent a week crafting this video and I was darned if I was going to let someone else take my hard earned revenue especially as I knew I had written this piece myself and it bore no relation to the claim.

So, I hit the dispute button. You then have explain yourself, provide evidence of your ownership (I wrote simply that I had just made the music up) and tick a couple of legal type boxes – scary stuff – my YouTube account was at risk. The moment I hit “submit” I get two emails from YouTube. One saying “Good news! The copyright claim on your video was released” and another saying my monetisation settings had been put back to normal. That was it. The claim vanished from my YouTube account and so I have no way to prove it happened or go back through the details.

What it felt like is that YouTube was simply having a go. The sad thing is that many people when faced with a claim like this will simply choose the safe option and give up their revenue to someone with no right to take it. What can we do about this? Not very much, I shouldn’t imagine. We’re at the mercy of these huge systems that feed us and offer us opportunities not imagined a few years ago, while we make them enormous amounts of money. No system is perfect: I’m sure Shazam sometimes picks the wrong tune. I’ve heard of content creators who have had Content ID claims made against them by their own material – which is completely mad and apparently a paperwork nightmare. So there’s room for screw-ups, but this felt suspiciously underhand and dodgy.

So the moral of the story is that if you’re making YouTube content make sure it’s your own so that you can hit that dispute button with confidence and get the pennies you are due. Don’t be intimidated, don’t let them steal your money, YouTube would be nothing without your content.

More information on YouTube Content ID is available here.