YouTube’s five-year-old Content ID program, designed to minimize the copyright infringement inherent in accepting user-generated content, once epitomized corporate bullying of small-time creatives. The company took a decisive turn yesterday when it announced an appeals process for users whose content has been removed or demonetized, plus a new algorithm to identify bogus copyright claims. It’s a step in the right direction and a long time coming - but it's not enough.
There's no argument that the Content ID system was deeply flawed. Thabet Alfishawi, YouTube's rights management product manager, admitted as much in an official blog post on Wednesday. “Smarter claim detection minimizes unintentional mistakes,” he said hopefully.
One of the biggest problems with Content ID was that it was automatic. Now, though, humans will be involved in the process. The new algorithm will “identify potentially invalid claims” and place them “in a queue to be manually reviewed” by YouTube staff, wrote Alfishawi. Moreover, if a user disputes a claim of infringement, the claimant can either release the claim, which allows the video to go back up and/or be monetized again, or file a formal takedown notice under the Digital Milennium Copyright Act.
There are “legal penalties (albeit relatively modest ones) for filing bogus DMCA takedown requests,” Ars Technica writer Timothy B. Lee pointed out. That should deter copyright abuse.
Musician, educator and community organizer Hank Green, one half of the Vlogbrothers (along with his brother John Green), was encouraged by YouTube's move. “It's good to see that YouTube has the interest of both large corporations and independent creators in mind,” he said.
But Green was quick to add that the new changes don't go far enough. “My worry is that if YouTube isn't going after people who make false claims, those claims will keep coming in," he said. "And though the people who dispute will get their content back, lots of people won't dispute, and you'll end up with basically a fraudulent company making bank.”
When a company claims copyright on a user's uploaded video, frequently the claimant doesn't remove it. Rather, the claimant runs ads on it. Consider Lady Gaga and the many parodies of her videos. “If I upload a video of me dancing to 'Bad Romance,'" Green explains, "Lady Gaga makes the money from the ads. Most people never make enough revenue to care whether their content is being claimed, but then when you add it all up, it's a nice payday for Lady Gaga.”
According to Green, most (albeit younger) YouTubers “would never think to even dispute a claim” as “only professional creators even understand how the system works.”
The Green brothers do, however, and they are no strangers to false takedown requests, having just restored monetization this morning on a video that was accidentally claimed by a company. The Vlogbrothers create educational videos as part of Google’s premium content program, as well as spoken essays on their original channel, so the chance of their content actually belonging to someone else is slim.
“It's very frustrating to be giving that revenue away,” Green said. “It's basically stealing, and I'd like to see people who are responsible for false claims punished. The company [that claimed our video] didn't do it intentionally, but if they're going to be making claims, they need to be properly policing those claims so they aren't stealing people's revenue.”
If they don’t, Green cautioned, “it could end up being a pretty easy way to make free money.”
According to Wired, rights management product manager Thabet Alfishawi miswrote. Google will not be manually checking copyright claims that appear bogus, rather, they will be automatically alerting content owners if the copyright flagging looks suspicious.