Well it was bound to happen. YouTube, once a pioneer of online content creativity for even the most amateur of aspiring entertainers, vloggers, and journalists, seems to have grown too big for its own good.
Recently, the big why-tee (and indeed the question on most minds these days, why?) rolled out its Content ID system. Essentially it’s an automated scanner that probes all video content posted to YouTube analyzing it for possible copyrighted content owned by persons other than the content creator.
Seems simple enough, right?
Well, as with all things automated, there are a few traps in the system. Game reviewers, gaming community personalities, and multichannel content creators have been hit hard with the system, flagging their videos for copyright claims.
What do these claims mean?
When a video is flagged for a claim by a copyright holder, what happens is that any revenue from ads that run on the video or on the video’s page will be diverted from the creator of the video to the copyright claim holder. For the bigger gaming channels and personalities who have made such content creation a way of life, this could mean denial of revenue that equates to lost wages.
Recently, it has been reported that most game publishers like Ubisoft are dismissing the claims in support of the community that supports them.
How is this a problem if the companies whose copyrighted material is being displayed are dismissing the claims?
Let’s think of a video product like a cookie. You have flour, crisco, sugar, baking powder, chocolate chip morsels, etc. Each of these ingredients are combined to make a single product, a delicious chocolate chip cookie. YouTubers in the gaming community are making money eating those cookies for you and telling you what they think AND the company that made the cookie says that’s okay because they think it will make you buy the cookie to eat it yourself and possibly buy OTHER flavors of cookies.
But lo! What’s this…the maker of the chocolate chips that went into the cookie have decided, “Hey, you’re making money off our product that we licensed to the cookie maker. That’s not cool.”
So to better aid in the search for violators, YouTube made a chocolate chip scanner to find who has chocolate chips in their cookies and flagging them as such. You can still watch people eat the cookie, but now they can’t gain any revenue from the ads that surround the video of them shoving their face.
In essence, the current claimants for YouTube copyright violations (preceedingly known as the makers of the chocolate chip morsels) are music companies, mostly. A video is scanned and matched to YouTube’s, in the words of Kotaku, “copyright-o-tron” database and then if flagged, a message is sent to the content poster and the copyright holder. The problem with scanning is that the scanner is catching things that already have approved licenses to appear in the game being featured in a review video. Music in a video game, specifically. And if you think of games like Grand Theft Auto where a video playthrough will have music playing in the background that is a song by a popular artist, you can imagine the kinds of webs that are spinning here.
Naturally, the response to the Content ID system has been negative if only to speak to the fact that its catch-all system has been proven to be flawed and has already seen victims of mistaken claims. Mostly though, what seems to have people downtrodden is that this automated system seems to have no human oversight, despite the thousands of complaints seen on the internet.
And YouTube’s response couldn’t be more a more flippant “this is what we’re using, deal with it” attitude. Lest we forget this is the same attitude we saw from Microsoft’s Don Mattrick last summer at E3 (and we all know how much longer he lasted at Microsoft after THAT fiasco). Here’s YouTube’s response, courtesy of Kotaku:
Interesting to say the least.
One would be remiss to ignore the fact that Content ID exists simply to protect people’s rights to their creative property and YouTube’s survival instinct to protect itself from such claims. However, if one were to really look at the videos on YouTube no one is trying to steal someone else’s work and claiming it for themselves. Millions of people traffic the sight and it would be really obvious near instantly if someone even tried. And ad revenue is enough to keep content creators afloat but isn’t exactly raking in the dough. Hence why people are in an uproar and why YouTube’s attitude seems to be a kick in the nuts.
If this was the road YouTube was forced to travel, there are a number of ways to communicate that without seeming like a Mattrick-esque kind of jerk (though, Mattrick was blatant in his wording, YouTube by way of its public response seems to at least be using nice words — props to the PR team). Not to mention the fact that once again, like the Twitter-block debacle, you have a company trying to roll out changes to its services without duly WARNING people beforehand how they might be affected. Wired‘s Derek Powazek broke down what happened with Twitter and it seems that point-for-point the same could be applied to YouTube’s current Content ID situation.
Essentially, people notice changes like this right away, ESPECIALLY when once the system is in place all of a sudden videos years-old are being flagged out of nowhere. And most importantly, the system seems to hurt victims (in this case YouTubers) more than the copyright holders.
The easiest solution I can think of is to increase human oversight of Content ID to discern legitimate claims from bogus ones flagged by the system. It doesn’t take much to see a flagged video, CLICK ON THE LINK and ACTUALLY WATCH it to judge the content. Let the system do it’s job in identifying but let PEOPLE at YouTube first be the judge. This should alleviate the number claims needing to be processed and those undergoing review won’t waste the time or money of the people involved with the dispute.
What also needs to be re-examined is who has rights to particular parts of the cookie. Music plays in the background of a game that was approved to use it. The game, in essence, is an experience. That experience needs to be protected wholly, not in part(s). Otherwise there would be no limit as to who has a right to a claim. I mean, a video game featured by a reviewer was made using a particular software not owned by the game’s development company. Who’s to say that the software company doesn’t have a right to a claim? The game reviewer is wearing a shirt with an American Eagle logo. Who’s to say AE isn’t allowed to claim the video now because they contributed to the “costuming” aspect of the video.
The point is, why should music INCLUDED in that experience be seen as a separate entity? The fact is, it shouldn’t. If this were the case of someone making a new video to play on YouTube and decided to add a soundtrack of copyrighted music, that’s one thing and perfectly legit for a claim. But in this case, news reviews and critical reviews featuring content already approved for use within said experience should not be, plain and simple.
Right now, there seems to be no movement from YouTube other than its official response, and from what I’ve seen from all the game reviewers and broadcasters I’ve followed is that if that continues to be the case, they’ll find a new home. Case in point:
I’m not sure I’m encouraged to continue down this road with YouTube, if things don’t go well I will sever both @olr and personal videos.
— rob roberts (@skie) December 15, 2013
Some have even started barking up Twitch’s tree calling for an advent of the streaming service to become a true one-stop shop for the gaming community and its broadcasters. That would definitely be an interesting development if it came to fruition as it would open up competition to the video behemoth that is YouTube.
Either way, YouTube has to know that initiating policies and practices without warning and with little-to-no regard for the ultimate end user will result in an exodus and that could mean loss of revenue for not just it, but parent company Google. It needs to tread lightly in the coming days with regards to this issue. I assure you, this is not the last we’ll hear of it, and I’m sure other industries that participate in creating content on YouTube, and not just the video game industry, will have plenty to say when it starts to affect them just as well.