September 8, 2011
YouTube describes its Content-ID anti-piracy filter as a state-of-the-art technology, but those who look closely can see that in some cases it creates a huge mess. The system invites swindlers to claim copyright on other people’s videos and make money off them through ads. It automatically assigns thousands of videos to people who don’t hold the copyrights, and its take-down process appears to be hugely biased towards copyright holders.
In recent years Google and YouTube have gone to extremes to protect copyright holders. Perhaps the greatest achievement thus far is their state-of-the-art Content-ID system.
Content-ID allows rightsholders to upload the videos and music they own to a central ‘fingerprint’ database. YouTube will then scan their site for full or partial matches, and if there is a hit the copyright holder can automatically take it down, or decide to put their ads on it.
Although the above sounds like a fair and honest solution, not everything Content-ID does goes to plan. Of course some errors are expected when pioneering a new system, but the problems are more severe than that. Welcome to the world of YouTube swindlers, mass misattribution of copyrights and an unfair bias towards stubborn copyright holders.
One of the problems appears to be that people with bad intentions can claim copyright on videos they have nothing to do with, and even run ads on them. In the YouTube support forums there are hundreds of posts about this phenomenon, also summarized by the PRV blog recently.
Although some swindlers may indeed be around, most of the “misattribution” problems seem to be the result of screwups and technical limitations. A good example is the case of the Dutch game review site Gamer.nl, owned by the publishing platform Sanoma.
All Game Videos Are Belong to?
A quick Google search shows that the site has ‘claimed’ ownership of more than 10,000 YouTube videos, nearly all game related. However, most of the videos in question have nothing to do with the website. In fact, most are standard game trailers or fan made videos.
So what is going wrong here?
It appears that the Content-ID filter is automatically assigning these videos to Gamer.nl, because the clips produced by the review site also include snippets of trailers and in-game play. In other words, the Content-ID filter is set so broad that official game trailers are assigned to Gamer.nl because Gamer.nl uses footage from the trailers in its reviews.
As a result Gamer.nl is now collecting ad revenue on thousands of videos it has nothing to do with. And bear in mind that the above is just a single example, there are several similar examples which show that it’s a widespread issue.
TorrentFreak got in touch with Gamer.nl to hear their side of the story. They confirmed to us that in their case the videos are flagged by the system, not an actual person.
“Because our productions contain a lot of game footage, YouTube classifies videos with similar footage as infringing. Since this is an automated process we can’t do anything about it,” Gamer.nl’s Joost Wouterse said.
“Unfortunately the YouTube notice makes it look like we are actively flagging material as infringing, but this is not the case. We would never claim ownership on the game footage we use in our productions, but we do of course claim ownership on our full videos,” he added.
Wouterse understands that the confusion caused by the mass-takedowns is unfortunate, but at the same time he’s happy that the Content-ID system allows them to protect their own videos. The big question is of course, whether the thousands of videos that are assigned to them by mistake can simply be seen as collateral damage.
In response to this Wouterse said that YouTube users can file a counterclaim if they disagree with the removal of a video. But this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
Many users simply do not know whether they are allowed to post parts of a game trailer, or in-game material, and may think the claim from Gamer.nl is legit. Also, since YouTube threatens to ban the accounts of repeat infringers for life, they may not want to cause any trouble.
Bias Towards Copyright Holders?
Adding to the scare factor that might prevent people from complaining, YouTube’s Content-ID system also appears to hold an underreported bias towards copyright holder which sometimes makes bringing back content impossible.
Patrick McKay, candidate for Juris Doctor at Regent University School of Law and founder of FairUseTube.org, told TorrentFreak that there’s a systematic flaw in YouTube’s copyright enforcement system that needs to be addressed. A bias towards copyright holders which goes directly against U.S. law.
According to the DMCA, YouTube should make a video available again if a user disputes a claim from a copyright holder. The copyright holder then has to file a lawsuit to take the disputed video offline again. But this is not how YouTube works according to McKay.
“Under YouTube’s content ID system, the exact opposite is true. After a copyright holder rejects a Content ID dispute, that’s the end of it, and the user’s video is blocked without giving them further recourse under either copyright system—Content ID or DMCA,” he explained to TorrentFreak.
“Content ID thus gives the copyright holder sole authority to decide whether a video is fair use (and most copyright holders will never agree something is fair use), which is completely unfair to users, and ends up trampling fair use rights.”
McKay, who experienced the problem first hand, believes that YouTube needs to address this systematic bias towards copyright holders.
The issues outlined above illustrate that YouTube’s copyright enforcement system and Content-ID filter are not the solid machines they claim to be. Not for regular users at least. Although it’s understandable that mistakes are made when millions of videos are added every month, YouTube should work on getting the basics right.
Don’t let the war on pirates ruin the fun for everyone.