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M&E Journal: Content ID Leaves Independents on the Outside Looking In

Ruth Vitale, CreativeFuture

If you were online in May of 2015, you were probably aware that YouTube was having a party because literally everyone was invited. A YouTube-produced highlight video celebrating its tenth anniversary was shared everywhere – peaking at around 17 million views – while Google’s public relations department worked overtime to make sure every tech magazine, news outlet, and website heralded the milestone with elaborate retrospectives to celebrate the digital video platform’s first decade online.

Next year marks the tenth anniversary of YouTube’s Content ID system. But don’t expect the Google-owned digital video service to celebrate that dubious birthday with the same fanfare.

Why?: There won’t be a party for Content ID because despite its promise, the copyright claim system leaves much to be desired. Yes, Content ID is a step in the right direction, but with a full decade to improve upon a clearly flawed and overly complex system, Content ID still has the unique distinction of frustrating both copyright holders and YouTube creators.

YouTube has, without question, expanded access to creative works and provided artists of all kinds to try out new ideas and deliver fully formed works directly to their fans whenever they choose. Digital video platforms – YouTube, Livestream, Vimeo, Facebook Live, and others – have moved aside the gatekeepers, allowing anyone with an idea to express it, share it, and see, in real-time, how the public reacts to it.

Make no mistake: Tools that help creatives reach a wider audience are a good thing, but too often these platforms that help disseminate works worldwide at the push of a button are the very same platforms that pirates use to steal, share, and monetize someone else’s work as their own, also at the push of a button. Technology can solve difficult problems, but it can also create new ones. While ushering in an unparalleled era of video sharing online, YouTube has unwittingly created a virtual playground for pirates. And the onus is on YouTube to do something about it.

Content ID was implemented in 2007 in an effort to curb the most egregious cases of copyright infringement. However, Google continues to pick and choose who is allowed to participate, and independent filmmakers and musicians that do not qualify to use Content ID are forced to spend hours policing the platform to find and remove stolen copies of their work.

Unfair burden on independent creatives

Recently, YouTube has, in fact, implemented changes to make Content ID “smarter,” but the copyright infringement tool still excludes too many independent creatives. According to a recent Fast Company article, Content ID is powered by reference content that comes from “…thousands of hand-selected partners, an arrangement that naturally leaves some blind spots when it comes to independent musicians and other rights holders.” These “blind spots” are otherwise known as thousands of independent creatives who suffer the most financially when their content is stolen.

In YouTube’s own words: “To be approved, [copyright owners] must own exclusive rights to a substantial body of original material that is frequently uploaded by the YouTube user community.” This puts a substantial, unfair burden on independent creatives who do not enjoy the financial backing of major film and television studios or record labels to invest in this kind of unending whack-a-mole style enforcement – take one video down, another pops up in its place, on and on again, ad infinitum.

If you are on your own and your content appears on YouTube without your authorization, then you are really on your own.

Expansion could generate useful data

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Google thrives primarily on the proprietary data gathered from all of its platforms. In fact, user data is often how Google improves its products and services – by looking at how its customers interact with its services and adjusting issues accordingly with updates and upgrades. If Content ID were made available to all of its users, without exception, perhaps YouTube could unearth a new data-driven, crowdsourced solution to the problem of piracy on its own platforms that could serve as a model to be emulated by other tech companies that offer similar video and audio sharing services.

Quite simply, if Content ID works as well as YouTube claims it does, then why not just make it available to everyone? If Google and YouTube will not do more to stop piracy, then at least grant all creatives – big or small –access to the tools so that they can do it for themselves.

Transparency goes a long way toward building consumer trust. If YouTube creators and copyright holders have multiple grievances with Content ID as it exists today, Google should do what it does best– innovate and share it with everyone. Isn’t that what You- Tube is all about anyway?

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