Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Case of Mistaken Content ID

We’ve all watched videos on YouTube, and maybe some of us have uploaded our own videos to the ubiquitous service in the hopes of becoming, at the very least, Internet famous. With individuals free to upload videos of their choosing, one of YouTube’s biggest concerns is violation of copyright due to the unauthorized use of copyrighted material.

YouTube provides a service called Content ID for copyright owners that creates and stores an identification file for copyrighted audio and music in a database. When someone uploads a video to YouTube, the Content ID service compares the uploaded content against the database and identifies any copyright violations. When a match is found, the copyright owner is notified and and given the choice to block the video, track its viewing statistics, or add advertisements to the infringing video. Because this service is automated and not 100% accurate, it has been highly controversial.

While it is well-known that video content providers don’t enjoy having their creations uploaded by users, you may not have considered that the owners of copyrights for audio content can also request that their work be removed from users’ uploads. A YouTuber who recently uploaded a video of himself foraging for a salad in the wild found himself ensnared in a troubling situation when Content ID flagged his video as matching licensed material owned by the Portland, Oregon, music licensing firm Rumblefish. The only problem? The user’s video had no music at all, just the sounds of the natural world.

Andy Baio has all the sordid details on this kerfuffle at Wired (as well as some updates at his personal blog), but essentially, the user here has been innocently caught in a predicament, as claimants are given essentially total discretion over whether to block the allegedly infringing content. In this case, a representative from Rumblefish either mistakenly or intentionally blocked the user’s non-infringing video, leaving the user with no recourse but YouTube’s support forums.

Some takeaways:

  • Content ID is a fallible system that gives unwarranted discretion to copyright owners, who are able to abuse the review process or often simply don’t understand principles of copyright law, especially the fair use doctrine.
  • Content ID was intended to expedite and simplify the copyright violation review process in favor of the slower Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) review process, which allows recipients of takedown notices to counter-claim to dispute alleged violations.
  • Content ID may actually violate DMCA’s safe harbor provisions by allowing copyright owners to skirt the DMCA review process and prevent, at the owner’s discretion, a non-infringing user from disputing the alleged copyright violation.
As it is, YouTube’s copyright review process, while a profitable source of income for YouTube--to the tune of 1/3 of YouTube’s revenue--prevents innocent, non-infringing YouTube users from being able to pursue claims against mistakes or abuses enabled by the flawed Content ID system.

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