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YouTube’s content ID system brings humbug to the holidays

2013-12-23 Silent Night copyright 03Kids, never sing traditional, public domain Christmas carols on YouTube. It’s a huge headache.

I closed my latest video, “Winter Solstice”, by singing “Silent Night”  song composed in 1818, with English translation published in 1859. Any way you cut it, it’s a song well out of copyright jurisdiction. It’s one of the simplest examples of public domain.

And yet, when I published my video, I was immediately hit with a copyright claim, courtesy YouTube’s automated content ID system, asserting that my shoddy, imperfect, a capella version of this traditional Christmas carol did not belong to me.

2013-12-23 Silent Night copyright 04

An intriguing feature that moves YouTube in a positive direction, but in no way applicable here.

An interesting side note is the fact that this incident alerted me to a fact I was unaware of: YouTube now allows, in some instances, cover artists to share in the ad revenue with the owners of the content they’re covering. Good to know. Though I did not appreciate being heavily nudged in that direction, an easier direction by far, in a case where the copyright claim was fraudulent.

Obviously, this was a mistake. A ridiculous mistake, but I suppose these things happen. I disputed the claim from “One or more music publishing rights societies” and it was almost immediately acknowledged and dropped. I re-monetized my video and moved on.

Multiple copyright claims on a public domain song.

Multiple copyright claims on a public domain song.

This morning, however, I woke to find my video had been de-monetized again. Once again, YouTube’s automatic content ID system had decided that my rendition of a public domain song belonged to someone else. This time, it was three claims at once, all from major record labels: BMG, Warner/Chappell, and Universal Music Publishing Group.

As one might imagine, it is immensely frustrating, even angering, to have fraudulent claims made on the same video two days in a row. I had assumed that disputing the first claim, with its vague insinuation of multiple parties claiming the song, that dealing with it once would mean it was dealt with. But it seems that any time I sing a Christmas carol, I will have to expect a horde of false claims.

Worse, the response to my dispute has not bee nearly as swift, this time. It took BMG hours to respond, but happily, they did at least respond in the same day. As of this writing, Warner and UMPG have yet to respond to my claim dispute. And according to YouTube, they don’t technically have to do so anytime soon. They have a full month to respond.

I was going to upload another Christmas carol today. This time, that would have been the entire video. I still might, tomorrow. But this experience has soured me.

Dispute response deadline: a month later.

Note the deadline given for Warner & UMPG to respond. A month later, a video is no longer new, and not getting the initial, stronger influx of views. Also, getting a Christmas-themed video monetized in January isn’t terribly timely.

As an independent content creator, it is absurd, ridiculous, and downright insulting that I can have my content de-monetized based on a completely fraudulent claim. The fact that the claims are based on an automated system doesn’t make it any better. If anything, it makes me think the automated system should not be in place. Or at the very least, it needs a major overhaul, and a lot more human eyes involved before action is taken.

Now, I’ve been on the other side of this a few times. I didn’t deal with the automated system, but I’ve had to have content taken down for infringing on my copyrights (I generally leave remixed videos alone, but I’ve had to keep an eye out for complete re-uploads of entire videos). So I do understand the point of view of the rights holders who are trying to keep hold of their content. And when I’ve been in that situation, I’ve appreciated the prompt action taken on my behalf against infringing content.

But we’re playing with people’s income, here, and I don’t think an automated system should be in charge of that. Certainly not one that apparently has public domain songs registered to it. Anything fitting that description should only be acted upon once a human eye has reviewed it. Perhaps a different category within the content ID system is needed. A category for protecting specific recordings and arrangements of public domain content, but without YouTube’s entirely too impressive ability to recognize the similarities of someone singing their own version.

All I know is that dealing with this has dampened my holiday spirit. I don’t even have the energy to get into how disturbing it is that the judge and jury on whether or not a claim is valid appears to be the accusers themselves. I will say, though, that it’s quite the opposite of the experience I, as an independent, have when I flag a video for infringing my copyright. I have to make my case, and let YouTube judge whether I’m correct or not.

In the end, it’s fairly obvious that YouTube’s relationship with copyright is generally messy, full of flaws, and skewed toward the people with high-priced lawyers. At best, these actions are the accidents of good intentions. At worst, it’s a corporate strategy that weakens the independent artist. And either way, it has introduced an unpleasant amount of humbug into my holiday season.

(Update: the final content ID claim was released, and the video re-monetized, on December 27th. More details in the follow-up blog.)

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