Thoughts

How can a normal YouTube video garner so many copyright claims?

Have a look at a screenshot from my YouTube account, listing the various copyright claims made on a single video of mine.

That’s eight copyright claims, one of which still remains to be released if the music publisher in question, Believe, will do the right thing.

How can a simple video like this, where I went to the beach and filmed various simple scenes, cause YouTube’s copyright ID engine to flag it so many times?

I’m not upset (anymore). I used to get upset. (You can read those posts here and here.) For one thing, it’s not worth getting upset about. For another, YouTube has already taken steps to remedy the process, for which I thank them. Their copyright claim process, which I wrote about almost two years ago, is much improved these days, which makes it easier to file a dispute and to explain my position.

But it is mind-boggling that a simple, average video like this could trigger so many copyright flags. As I explained in past posts, all I did here was to minimally supplement the natural sound of the surf, which got muffled by wind noise in some portions of the video, with an iLife track called “Ocean Surf”. The track is royalty-free, approved by Apple for commercial and/or personal use, and the terms are clearly spelled out in the iLife Service Level Agreement.

I think there are two lessons to be learned here:

  1. YouTube’s copyright ID engine is still trigger-happy. It should be tweaked, and I suggest that this particular video of mine be used as a case study by YouTube engineers. If someone from YouTube/Google is interested, I’m willing to do a Screen Sharing session with them and show them exactly how I edited the video and where the “Ocean Surf” sound loop was used.
  2. Perhaps all these music publishers ought to stop copyrighting beach sounds? Let’s face it, nature sounds, especially ones that are as easy to record as beach sounds, are as public domain as sounds can get. Now if it’s the sound of the rare Brazilian polka-dotted bazooka bird, or some other rara avis, then I can understand the need to copyright it, but going to the beach, turning on the recorder, then calling it a copyrighted sound, is an exaggeration. Are you listening, publishers?
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Do not use iMovie sounds for YouTube videos

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.

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YouTube’s copyright claim process still needs some work

A while back, I edited and uploaded what I thought was a fairly innocuous video to YouTube, called A walk on Dania Beach. You can see it below. It shows a few clips of the beach that I took during two walks with my wife. It’s nothing special, really. The quality of the video isn’t even that good, because the camera I used at the time compressed the video too much.

Because there was a lot of wind noise from the in-camera microphone, I muted the sound on some portions of the video, and used the stock surf sound that ships with iMovie (as part of iLife).

You may or may not know (depending on whether you use a Mac) that the sounds that ship with iLife are free to use as you like in your videos, podcasts, presentations, etc. You paid for them when you purchased the software. While their creators retain copyright, in essence, by purchasing iLife, you have gained a license to use them as you see fit in your work.

And so I do use them, all the time. Many of the videos I uploaded to my YouTube channel contain either a sound or a clip from the iLife library, in order to enhance the video’s presentation. So far, so good.

Imagine my surprise when YouTube promptly informed me that this particular video contained copyrighted audio, and that I was welcome to file a copyright claim if I wanted to dispute their findings. They identified two entertainment companies, Go Digital and WMG, as the potential copyright holders. I did file a dispute, where I stated that I didn’t use their content. It took a few weeks, but their replies were finally posted.

GoDigital confirmed its claim to the sound recording, and WMG agreed with my dispute. It’s interesting to see that WMG, the far larger company, agreed with me, while GoDigital, a company I’ve never heard of, maintained their claim… to what? That’s really the question I’d like to ask them, but I can’t, because this is as far as I can go with YouTube’s claim dispute process.

If you’d like to learn how YouTube identifies potentially copyrighted material (video or audio) in the videos its users upload to the site every day, Margaret Stewart, YouTube’s head of user experience, gave a talk at TED about that very subject in June of this year.

Now that you’ve presumably watched that video and you understand how YouTube scans and identifies potential copyrighted assets, I’d still like to find out exactly what GoDigital sees in my not-so-special video that it thinks it owns. The sound of the waves I recorded with my camera? The sound of the waves from the iLife library? The seagulls I recorded? The sound of the wind, also recorded by me? What is it they think they own?

If someone at YouTube’s user experience team reads this, please, either enlighten me, or introduce an extra step in the copyright dispute process that allows the user to ask what particular piece of content was identified as copyrighted, or allows the company to specify it directly when they review the dispute and decide it’s still theirs. Then, for those special cases like mine, where I don’t see how the content is theirs, allow me to request a third-party review, by a human at YouTube, someone who could have a look at the video and see what’s going on.

Thanks.

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YouTube and music publishers: a model for revenue sharing

One of the videos I uploaded to YouTube recently was identified as using copyrighted music. I’d used a song from the 50s, thinking that after 60 years, no one would give a hoot whether that song was being used as a track in a YouTube video. Still, it was identified by YouTube’s content ID program and pointed out to me.

Leaving aside the discussion of music copyrights in the US, which is absolutely insane, given that even 70-year old songs still aren’t public domain, I’d like to propose a model for revenue sharing among YouTube users and music publishers. It’s quite simple, and allows for easy licensing and monetization of music tracks. If implemented, I dare say it would also increase the revenues of music publishers quite a bit.

Here’s how it would work:

  1. Music publishers use YouTube’s content ID program to identify potential matches between their catalogs and YouTube videos, same as they’re already doing.
  2. Potential copyright issues will continue to be identified, same as they are right now.
  3. Videos won’t be restricted, as they are now, but will continue to play in all geographical locations, for every YouTube user, accumulating views.
  4. If the videos are successful and accumulate over 10,000 views, they will be invited into YouTube’s revenue sharing program.
  5. Once they start making money through that program, a portion of that money will go to the music publishers who own the licensing rights for that particular song or piece of music. I wouldn’t mind paying up to 25% of the profits from a video to a music publisher if I chose a particular song I loved for my video, and my video was successful. Besides, I wouldn’t have to actually “pay” myself. YouTube would automatically distribute the revenues accordingly.

The best part of this is that the process is fair, doesn’t punish anyone, and benefits all involved. If a video is successful, then it pays, and if it only gets a few hundred views, who cares if uses a song that should be licensed? If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Does it matter?

Prosecuting individuals in this day and age, when the practice of adding songs to videos is so widespread, is terribly inefficient, and fosters ill-will. Why not use existing technology and platforms to add value, make money and foster goodwill?

The two areas where I see some tweaking will be needed are in the correct identification of music tracks, where the dispute/review process will need to be made easier and faster, and in the use of a sliding scale to calculate the percentage due to the publishers for the user of their songs, based on the song’s popularity and relevance. But those are minor things given the immense potential of this model to revolutionize the way we look at music copyright disputes on YouTube.

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An announcement about my photos

I’ve been mulling over this decision for some time. As I thought about it, I wanted to balance my desire to let people enjoy my photos with my very real need to retain the ability to sell my photographs, because I do want that to become a larger source of income for me than it has been thus far.

I think I may have reached a happy medium, and I hope I won’t regret what I’ve already begun to do. As of last week, I’ve been publishing my images at a much larger resolution — 1920 pixels on the longest side vs. 800 pixels previously. This means that you, the reader who sees this, will be able to download them and use as desktop backgrounds, without seeing a decrease in the photo quality as it fills up your screen. As a matter of fact, you’ll be able to use my images on monitors up to 24″ or more in size (1920×1200) or on HDTVs of any size, without seeing a decrease in quality. I am also resizing all of them to an aspect ratio of 16:10, so they’ll fit natively on widescreen displays.

Now, what am I not doing? I am not posting them at their native 240 dpi, as my Canon 5D gives them to me. I am posting them at 72 dpi, which is the native dpi spec of computer screens everywhere. I am doing this because I want to discourage the making of large prints from my photos, since I’d like to make money from those prints. This also makes it a little harder for people to blow them up to larger sizes for serious commercial work, which is where I also hope to make money.

I am also not removing my copyright notice from the photos. You’ll see it as a small watermark in the lower left corner that says “(c) raoulpop.com”. I want to keep that there to let people know that while I may be giving my photos away, I am not relinquishing my copyright, nor am I moving to a Creative Commons type of license, which I believe is inadequate for photographs. I also realize that the photos will get edited in various photo editing programs, and any meta-data will unwittingly get wiped from them. The watermark is the only sensible way to tell people down the line that I made a certain photo. I do wish Lightroom would let me format the watermark in some way, but for now, that’s what it gives me, and I’m not going to run all my published photos through Photoshop just to put a watermark on them.

Am I opening myself up for theft? Yes. There’ll be unscrupulous people (I hesitate to call them people) who will likely steal my photos and try to profit from them. For them, I should point out that I do register my images with the US Copyright Office, and I wouldn’t mind getting a six-figure payout.

For you decent folks out there, I’ll be happy to know that you get a little joy from looking at my photos at a resolution where you can actually enjoy them. Go ahead and download them and use them as desktop backgrounds, put them on your HDTV, email them to your friends, use them on your website, whatever. As long as it’s personal, non-commercial use, and you give me credit, it’s okay with me.

If you’re a company or some kind of organization that wants to use my photos in some way, please get in touch with me first to clear that use with me and to pay for the license. I’ll do my best to accommodate your needs.

Okay, so where do you partake of this fantastic offering? There are wo places where you can get it:

  1. My photo catalog.
  2. My Flickr stream. I’ve opened up access to the All Sizes button. Download away.

Remember to play nice. Here’s how to use my photos. Please obey the rules listed there when using my photos for free, and if you’ll end up licensing some, then you’ll make me very happy. Thanks.

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Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-20

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How many of my photos were stolen?

For the moment, this is a rhetorical question. I’ve been re-thinking the way I publish my photos online in view of the recent and very prominent theft of Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir‘s photos from Flickr. Call me naive, but I really believed, and still would like to believe, that people will wish to stay legal and pay for the right to use my photos, especially for commercial purposes. That’s why I’ve been publishing my photos at full resolution. I wanted folks who weren’t able to pay (developing countries, for instance), or only wanted a nice desktop background, to be able to download a photo of mine and enjoy it without financial obstacles.

But I talked with my brother this morning, and he told me some things that made me think twice about my approach. He’s a professor at a university in Transylvania (Romania), and he does a lot of field research in ethnology and religion. He takes a lot of photos, and shoots a lot of video. When people ask him for copies of his work, he’s very nice about it and does so, hoping they’ll respect his academic work and cite him or ask for his permission when they use it. But he’s been finding out that they don’t. They’ll reuse his photos and his videos, and he won’t hear about it until he sees his work somewhere else. Just recently, someone entered one of his videos in a contest as their own creation, and he found out about it only after that person won. It was very disheartening. He’s now thinking of watermarking both his videos and photos, and of only publishing lower resolution copies on the Internet. He’s tired of constant theft and no attribution.

So I had to ask myself: how many of my photos have already been stolen? I haven’t yet heard of or seen a particular instance, but I also haven’t really looked around to see. It’s probably just a matter of time before I start finding my work in someone else’s portfolio, website or printed materials. When you combine high-resolution photos with people that have no respect whatsoever for someone else’s hard work, you’re asking for trouble. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, good people, those that respect other people’s property, are few and far between, and it’s best not to tempt the thieves or uneducated ones by making good photos easily available.

I’ve taken some steps already. I used to upload to Flickr at full resolution. Not anymore. Since they offered Rebekkah no help whatsoever, and even deleted the photo where she complained of image theft, along with the thousands of comments that she received there, I’ve lost respect for them. If that’s how they’re going to treat one of their best users, then I sincerely hope they get what’s coming to them, and I hope it’s a wallop.

I may also start to watermark my images. As much as I hate this (it uglifies an image, imo), I’ll do it, just to make it harder to pass my photos around without crediting them properly. I may also start to copyright my photography with the Library of Congress, and pursue damages to the full letter of the law (up to $150,000 per incident).

Finally, I may also stop uploading at full res to Zooomr. I keep waiting for them to push out the Mark III upgrade, and it seems that every time Kris is ready to do it, something happens to stop it. This week was the third time the promised upgrade didn’t materialize, and I’m pretty disappointed. Mark III is supposed to have this really nice image theft prevention built in, so I could continue to upload a full res, but restrict the sizes available to casual visitors or even my contacts at certain resolutions, and only make the full res size available to buyers. But if Mark III doesn’t show up any time soon — and since Zooomr has no photo replace feature like Flickr — I may just delete all of my photos, or make them all private. I do not want to see my hard work go to waste.

It’s a real shame that we can’t function equitably as a society, at the local, state, national or global level. If only everyone would respect other people’s property (physical or intellectual), things would work a lot better. One would think the concept of property has been around long enough for most people and cultures to grasp it…

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Major Canadian musicians say the recording industry doesn't represent them

Techdirt has a great post on this, as well as Dr. Michael Geist. Apparently Canadian musicians like the Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne and Sarah McLachlan have stood up and said they do not agree with the record industry, and that they don’t want to sue their fans, nor impose DRM schemes on them. This is wonderful, and I applaud them! I think more artists ought to stand up and say what the RIAA is doing is unethical and just plain wrong.

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Congress readies new digital copyright bill

I find this unbelievable, yet Congress seems poised to pass another revision of the DMCA, expanding the reach of this already-controversial bill. It only goes to show the power that special-interest groups have in Washington.

For example, under this new law, if Sony’s rootkit malware were removed by anti-virus software, Sony would have the right to sue those companies! Sounds very silly, doesn’t it!

Just talking about or attempting to bypass copyright protection on anything can land you in jail for up to 10 years! This parallels a French law that their legislature wanted to pass late last year.

I am left to ponder whether lack of forethought and absence of logic have hopped on the back of the bird flu swans and have now infected our politicians… Maybe they’ve been here all along, ever since the 1st version of the DMCA was passed years ago.

Here’s a link to the CNET News article.

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