YouTube Changes Content ID Rules to Allow for Money Collection During Rights Investigations

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Illustrated by James Yamasaki

Internet video giant YouTube has made a change in its Content ID evaluation process that will benefit creators whose work has been improperly challenged by a rights holder.

Admitting “we agree this process could be better,” YouTube announced the move in a Thursday blog post Thursday, and it seems like a simple fix. The platform will now continue to collect, but retain, any ad revenue accrued until any rights-verification process that has been started is resolved. The money retained will then be distributed to the correct parties. Previously, neither the creator nor the rights holder, often major music labels or individuals with a stake in the song, were paid while a dispute was being examined.

“Currently videos that are claimed and disputed don’t earn revenue for anyone, which is an especially frustrating experience for creators if that claim ends up being incorrect while a video racks up views in its first few days,” wrote David Rosenstein, YouTube’s Content ID Group product manager. “Today, we’re announcing a major step to help fix that frustrating experience.”

The move comes in the midst of a growing public relations problem with artists are asking YouTube specifically to pay out royalties more fairly while politically sensitive negotiations are going on in the U.S. and Europe over the digital marketplace of the future. Critics from labels and their trade groups charge that platforms like YouTube are hiding behind the concept of “safe harbor,” which protects the provider from its users’ practices. And both sides contend Content ID is not sophisticated enough to accurately discern which offending videos are correctly using the principle of fair use, which supercedes strict copyright rules.

The public debate prompted an op-ed piece in The Guardian published earlier today (Apr. 28) from Christophe Muller, YouTube’s head of international music partnerships, who says the company has paid out more than $3 billion dollars in royalties to musicians “and that number is growing significantly year on year.” He contends that 99.5 percent of copyright infringement on the site is handled through its own Content ID system, not through the legal system of safe harbor which places more impetus on rights holders to monitor content on user-generated platforms.

“The truth is that YouTube takes copyright management extremely seriously and we work to ensure rightsholders make money no matter who uploads their music,” Muller wrote. “No other platform gives as much money back to creators -- big and small -- across all kinds of content.”

It’s unclear how much money creators have lost to the Content ID process before, but the Rosenstein says a special group of employees vets each claim and “this team has resolved millions of invalid claims in the last year alone, and acted on millions more before they impacted creators.”