YouTube Infringement Tools Are All Foam and No Beer for Small Creators (Part 1)

Everything about YouTube is BIG. It is far and away from the most widely used video-sharing platform and, according to SEMRUSH, is the second-most visited website—with the most-visited being its parent company, Google. It boasts more than two billion monthly users who watch more than one billion hours of videos each day and upload more than 500 hours of videos each minute. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.

Unfortunately, YouTube also has a BIG copyright infringement problem. This is not breaking news. For years YouTube has been a haven for infringing movies and other audiovisual works, music, images, audiobooks, and more. YouTube knows this and in fact, over the years has developed various tools in an ongoing, uphill battle to combat the problem. YouTube should be commended for developing these tools. But for a platform as successful, cutting edge, and tech savvy as YouTube, we have to ask ourselves: why aren’t these tools working to solve YouTube’s copyright infringement problem? The answer is that it’s not the tools themselves but rather the way YouTube is implementing these tools—or more accurately, not implementing them—that is the problem.

Along with ambiguity surrounding the operation and implementation of some of YouTube’s infringement fighting tools, there is a major problem with access. The unfortunate reality is that the most effective tools are only available to a limited group of large copyright owners. Most individual creators and small businesses have been denied access, making it even harder for them to protect their livelihoods. 

Before we delve too deeply into those problems, it may be helpful to run through YouTube’s various copyright infringement tools. 

Content ID

Most YouTube aficionados have heard of Content ID. In fact, it’s likely this is the only YouTube copyright infringement tool copyright owners and YouTubers are aware of. YouTube launched Content ID in 2007, so it’s been around for quite a while. The small number of copyright owners who are lucky enough to have access to Content ID provide YouTube with their copyrighted works along with metadata associated with the work (e.g., ownership information and title).

YouTube creates a digital “fingerprint” of the works and scans its platform to identify uploaded videos containing all or some portion of these works. Any videos containing the works that are unearthed during the scan are then reported to the copyright owner who can instruct YouTube to block or monetize the uploaded video or to simply track it.

Not many people are familiar with YouTube’s other tools, the most prominent of which is Copyright Match. Think of Copyright Match as Content ID-lite. The Copyright Match tool uses the same Content ID technology and works similar to Content ID. The big differences between the two tools are that Copyright Match is intended for smaller copyright owners and has several limitations on how it can be used.

While Copyright Match is intended for smaller copyright owners, there are several limitations that make it very difficult for these smaller copyright owners to get access to it and use it. For example:

Copyright Match is Only Available to YouTube Partners

In order to use Copyright Match, a copyright owner must participate in YouTube’s Partner Program. To be part of this program, a copyright owner must, at least:

  • Post and monetize video on YouTube and have a YouTube channel;
  • Have no active strikes against their channel;
  • Have more than 4,000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months;
  • Have more than 1,000 subscribers; and
  • Have a linked AdSense account.

This means that the tool is only available to those who post lots of videos on YouTube. Thankfully, after Senator Tillis and others, like the Copyright Alliance, raised concerns with this limitation, YouTube seems to be in the process of changing this inane policy. According to the YouTube website the Copyright Match tool will soon be “available to any YouTube user who’s submitted a valid copyright takedown request.”

Copyright Match is Only Available to the First Uploader

Another limitation of the Copyright Match tool is that in order to remove a video, the copyright owner must be the first to upload the video to YouTube. This limitation is only slightly less inane than the Partner Program requirement. Unlike the Partner Program requirement, the first-to-upload requirement does not require copyright owners to make their videos publicly available on YouTube. Instead, copyright owners can use the private upload feature.

But why have this requirement at all? What purpose does it serve other than to benefit YouTube?

It makes some sense that the video needs to be uploaded so that YouTube can fingerprint and search for it, but once that occurs—whenever it occurs—the tool should be capable of identifying an infringing video regardless of when the copyrighted video or the infringing video was posted. Hopefully, YouTube will eliminate this requirement just like it is doing with the Partner Program requirement.

Copyright Match Only Catches Complete Copies

Unlike Content ID, Copyright Match will only identify complete copies of the copyright content in an uploaded video. This makes the Copyright Match tool very easy to circumvent. All the infringer needs to do is modify the content slightly and the tool will not identify the infringement. Infringers use a variety of modifying tactics—like splitting a motion picture up into two or more separate videos—to successfully circumvent less sophisticated implementation of tools like Copyright Match, leading to endless frustration on the part of copyright owners who don’t have access to Content ID.

Copyright Match Does Not Allow the Video to be Blocked or Monetized

Lastly and most significantly, when a match is reported through the Copyright Match tool the copyright owner can decide to leave a video up, request removal, archive the match, or contact the uploader. Unlike with Content ID, the copyright owner does not have the option of blocking the video themselves or monetizing the video. But that is not the only problem here. The “contact the uploader” functionality falls well short of its potential since it only allows the copyright owner to send a prewritten message from YouTube to the uploader.

More significantly, if the copyright owner “requests removal” of the video, the copyright owner is simply redirected to the takedown request webform. That is ridiculous and an unnecessary roundabout way of reporting infringement. Everyone has access to the takedown request form. By merely redirecting the copyright owner to the webform, YouTube has effectively reduced the potential effectiveness of the Copyright Match tool to nothing more than a way to search for infringing videos. That is the equivalent of using a cell phone as door stop. These are all needless limitations employed by YouTube on what otherwise could be a very useful tool.

Content Verification Program

YouTube also offers what it calls its Content Verification Program (CVP). It is unclear if the CVP program is still available. It seems to have been replaced by the Copyright Match tool, or perhaps by Google’s Trusted Content Removal Program. The CVP is intended to be used by copyright owners who have a frequent need to remove content from YouTube and have consistently submitted many complete and valid takedown requests.

There is not much information about CVP available online or in submissions made by YouTube during the Senate IP Subcommittee hearings in 2020. It would appear to use the same technology that supports Content ID but everything else about the CVP program seems to be shrouded in secrecy. Several Copyright Alliance creator members have applied over the years, but none have been granted access.

Manual Claiming Tool

YouTube also has a tool it refers to as “Manual Claiming.” The Manual Claiming tool is available only to subset of copyright owners who use Content ID (which, as noted above, is a small number of copyright owners to begin with). It allows them to manually raise copyright infringement claims on uploaded videos that were not automatically flagged by Content ID.

To be clear, a manual claim is different from a claim made through Content ID claim because it is not automated. Manual claims are different than all other types of YouTube copyright infringement claims made with other tools provided by YouTube in that they must include a timestamp that indicates exactly where the copyrighted content appears in the uploaded video. Manually sifting through videos to identify the exact portion containing infringing content can be prohibitively time consuming, and it is unclear how effectively copyright owners are using the tool. A YouTuber who receives a manual claim can excise the infringing content from the video to keep the video from being taken down.

Takedown Webform

Like most platforms, YouTube has a webform which a copyright owner can use to submit a request to get infringing videos taken off the platform. Not surprisingly, the webform is the most frequently used of all the YouTube copyright infringement tools.

YouTube claims that the webform process is “consistent with the requirements of the DMCA” and that the webform is “available to everyone.” That is generally correct, except for one huge difference. To submit a takedown request, the copyright owner must have an account with Google/YouTube and be signed in.

Anyone who does not have an account for one reason or another (like not wanting to share their personal information with YouTube/Google) is therefore locked out of the webform. This is another requirement that YouTube needs to eliminate immediately.

Contacting YouTube’s Designated DMCA Agent

One other way to get infringing videos taken down from YouTube is to contact YouTube’s designated DMCA agent. It is preferable to make a takedown request through other means, like the webform, but YouTube has put up so many obstacles to using those other tools that some copyright owners may choose to contact the DMCA designated agent.

The DMCA requires that the U.S. Copyright Office list all designated agents. A search of the Copyright Office designated agent directory revealed YouTube’s designated agent contact information:

Copyright Operations

YouTube, LLC

901 Cherry Ave.

San Bruno, CA  94066

Phone: 650-214-3010

Email: copyright@youtube.com

Luckily this information is on the Copyright Office website because a search of YouTube’s website for its designated agent was extremely difficult to locate. In fact, the designated agent information could only be found on YouTube’s website after obtaining the information from the Copyright Office website and using it to search YouTube’s website.

Be sure to look for Part 2 of this blog on Thursday, August 26 for more on YouTube’s Copyright Infringement tools!

Photo Credit: istock/pressureUA

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