There’s continuing controversy over YouTube’s Content ID rights management platform. You might think I’m talking about content creators complaining about video takedowns for music violations. But I’m actually referring to the growing number of artists demanding direct access to the Content ID tools.
Here’s a quick overview of Content ID from the artist’s perspective: a song submitted to YouTube’s Content ID system is available to creators for use in videos without extra permissions. Content ID will auto-magically identify when songs in its library appear in YouTube videos. The artist (or other rights-holder) can then elect to block the video, monetize the song’s placement in the video (via advertising), or forgo either action by ‘white-listing’ the video. Most of the songs in a major label’s catalog and many independents are a part of this Content ID library.
The problem is that artists and labels can only access these tools through a YouTube-approved third party. This party is usually someone like AdRev or a distributor like Symphonic. As expected, in the monetization option, the third parties will take a cut of any income. Some artists find a mandatory reliance on a third party aggravating, especially when giving up a share of the money is unavoidable.
There is a lawsuit against YouTube filed by artist Maria Schneider and the company Pirate Monitor to challenge this requirement, arguing that Content ID should open up direct access to anyone. The brunt of the argument rests on the challenges of those who can’t utilize Content ID. That is, if a song used in a video is not in YouTube’s system, the reporting and takedown process is inadequate and ineffective. In that case, the artist or label would manually ‘flag’ the video and wait for YouTube to take action. As you can imagine, it’s not an effective process.
YouTube argues that Schneider is not affected by any deficiencies in its approach, as reported in Complete Music Update. She uses a third party already, says YouTube, so she’s an example that the tools are readily available to anyone. Pirate Monitor also has its issues:
As for Pirate Monitor, YouTube is more scathing about its involvement in the lawsuit. The counterclaim makes various allegations about the conduct of the anti-piracy firm, concluding that that conduct demonstrates why Content ID access is not available to all. It accuses Pirate Monitor of setting up various anonymous accounts on YouTube, uploading snippets of films controlled by its clients, and then issuing takedown requests against those uploads.
Perhaps, but one could look at Pirate Monitor’s alleged actions as to why Content ID should be more widely available. It’s become another system that encourages ‘gaming’ from those left out of its tools.
You probably know my opinion. The point isn’t that Schneider has the access — it’s that she’s beholden to a third party to get it. With that in mind, I’d say an artist who licenses music under Creative Commons has a better case.
I’ve written previously about Kevin MacLeod, a musician who allows free use of his music in anyone’s videos.1This strategy has paid off as MacLeod has gotten quite a few paid music gigs based on the widespread appearance of his music. A third party will not represent him because he doesn’t want to make money off YouTube placements — there’s no income and no cut. But, he needs the protection Content ID provides. MacLeod has run into others downloading his music and illegitimately submitting it to a service like AdRev without his knowledge. The videos with MacLeod’s songs are then monetized against his will with the income going to some shadowy figure.
There’s little that MacLeod and others like him can do when this happens. They can’t access Content ID, the third parties reject them for representation as there’s no income, and YouTube — as expected from a huge corporation — is slow to respond (if at all). MacLeod eventually got YouTube’s attention, but it took a long time repeatedly pleading with the company. YouTube’s eventual solution? They gave MacLeod direct access to Content ID. It’s that easy — YouTube should find a way to open up Content ID for all.