Updated 4/24/12: YouTube has greatly improved the copyright claim dispute process in recent weeks, and it seems that even copyright holders have gotten much more responsive and willing to relinquish claims falsely flagged by YouTube’s Copyright ID engine. These are all good steps in the right direction!
Are you a YouTube Partner? Great! Then don’t use sounds or tracks from the Final Cut Pro/iMovie/iLife library in your YouTube videos, because sooner or later, they’ll be flagged, taking them out of the revenue sharing program.
I’ve touched on this topic in this post and this earlier post as well. Until now, I thought filing a copyright dispute and trying to work within that process on the issue would lead to the correct solution, which would be a rejection of the false claims, but unfortunately that’s not the way the copyright dispute process is structured.
There is no mechanism on YouTube to adequately dispute a copyright claim, because the process is heavily tilted in the favor of the supposed copyright holder. There is a first step, which allows you to raise your hand and say to the alleged copyright holder, “Wait a minute, I’m not using your music, the track I’m using here is royalty-free, here is the iLife SLA, see where it says I’m allowed to use it commercially”, which may lead to the removal of the copyright claim, or not, in which case you can re-dispute but risk jeopardizing the standing of your YouTube account, the removal of your video along with its view count and the possible loss of your Partner status. That can be a terrible situation.
That’s right, beyond that initial “raising of your hand”, there is nothing else you can do. If YouTube staff is nice, they might give you an email address for the supposed copyright holder, and in some rare cases, someone might read your email at those places, respond and actually do something meaningful about your problem, but that chance is slim. The majority of the time, you’re going to be screwed over, and some alleged copyright holder is going to profit from your work.
The really annoying part in this whole screwing-over business is there’s no middle ground. Your video’s either in the revenue sharing program or it isn’t. YouTube has chosen to ignore the whole video aspect of this altogether, meaning that when a copyright claim is filed for the music in a video, even though you have a video which is wholly yours, and only the music might belong to someone else (but it doesn’t when you use sounds from iMovie, because they’re royalty-free), they pull the video out of revenue sharing altogether, as if there’s no video, only audio. Shouldn’t they allow you to continue to make some money on that video? After all, you shot it and edited it! Your only “fault” (if we could even call it that) was using royalty-free tracks from Apple to score it. In a logical world, that’s what would happen, but we don’t live in a logical world. We live in a world where YouTube chooses to obey the demands of alleged copyright owners without standing up for its YouTube Partners. All these supposed owners have to do is to upload sound-alike tracks to their YouTube catalog and they’re set. YouTube’s Content ID engine will start identifying videos that are using similar-sounding tracks and flagging them, leading to a lot of frustration on our part. I know this sounds harsh and I love Google and YouTube, but this is so frustrating for me that I’m not sure how else to put it.
Things have gotten so bad that now the copyright trolls have started to make music that sounds like the tracks from the iLife Library, for the express purpose of cashing in on YouTube. See this thread in the YouTube forums. And for a bit of background on the issue, see this thread as well. The problem’s existed for years, not months. YouTube likely knows about it. Privately, they’re likely tweaking the copyright engine algorithm and they’re trying to address the problem, but publicly, all I’m seeing is people getting screwed over by the copyright trolls.
You can’t even rely on the initial copyright warning anymore. In the past, you’d upload a video to YouTube, and within a few minutes, you’d get a warning saying the video matches content from such and such entity. Fine. I’d pull it down and re-edit it, using other sounds, even though the sounds I’d used were also from Apple’s royalty-free library. But now, you upload the video, everything’s fine, and months down the road, after the video’s been seen by thousands of people or more, and it’s been linked to, etc., you get the dreaded copyright warning. What are you going to do then? Pull it down? As you can see from the thread I linked to in the paragraph above, the copyright trolls are going through popular YouTube videos, identifying the music used in those videos, and then profiting from this loophole. We, the YouTube Partners, who do the hard work to create the videos that make YouTube a popular website are the ones getting screwed over. When is YouTube going to stand up for us?
To be fair, I think the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of both Google and Apple on this matter.
What Apple should have done, years ago, was to sign up for the Content ID program and upload all of the tracks in the iMovie/iLife Library (you know, the ones they keep saying are royalty-free). Then, they should have indicated to YouTube that whenever a video uploaded to the platform matches one of the tracks in their library, YouTube should do absolutely nothing about it, because it’s perfectly okay, they’re royalty-free tracks. If they had done that, we wouldn’t be in this mess now, would we?
YouTube is to blame as well. The copyright dispute process does not work. It puts all the balance of power in the hands of those who file the copyright claim, and because no person at Google reviews our disputes, the trolls have all the say in the matter. (I understand the sheer amount of work it would take if YouTube staff would have to review every dispute filed for false claims, but at least they could do it for their YouTube Partners, there aren’t that many of us.)
Instead our copyright disputes only get seen by the staff at the various copyright holding groups, who have an interest in maintaining their claims, since there’s no recourse from Google/YouTube for wrongly identified videos, and of course, let’s not forget the copyright trolls, who hang onto every claim they make no matter what one says in a dispute.
I make that distinction above because there are some groups within the music industry who aren’t copyright trolls. For example, I’ve had copyright disputes reviewed by staff at the GoDigital Media Group and the Warner Music Group, and they’ve ultimately agreed with me and retracted their copyright claims. So there are some good guys around, there just aren’t enough of them.
So my advice to you, as stated at the start of this post, is do not use music from the Final Cut Pro/iMovie/iLife Library at all if you’re a YouTube Partner. You’re better off using music from independent artists and licensing it directly from them, or getting it from websites like MusOpen — or scoring your videos yourself, with original music.
Perhaps Apple and Google will fix this at some point. Until then, do yourself a favor and follow my advice. You’ll be able to sleep better for it.