How YouTube’s Content ID Bot Affects Emerging Artists

The first time I violated copyright on YouTube was about five years ago.

I shot a video with some friends for a 48 hour film festival and since it involved a dance off, I used MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This in the video. The music was eventually flagged, and silenced. Knowing what I do now, I laugh at this past indiscretion. MC Hammer? No way I’d pull that shit now. But here’s the thing: I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I mean, I suppose I knew that MC Hammer’s music was copyrighted, but because I could put it in a video, it didn’t occur to me that I was doing anything wrong by uploading it to YouTube. I’m willing to bet a lot of first-time video makers and editors make the same mistake all the time.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 6.30.18 PMThat’s me in the video, dancing to “Can’t Touch This” and flagrantly violating copyright.

If you’ve been following the YouTube copyright fiasco, then nothing I’m going to say here is news to you. But as we use music in our videos and have had a few 3rd Party Content ID matches, I wanted to throw in my two cents. A lot of what I’ve been doing is self-education, because that’s pretty much what you have to do when you have a channel. YouTube doesn’t exactly make it easy to understand a lot of this stuff. Most of the talk around the Content ID issue is coming from channels that get more hits in one day than we’ll get in a whole year. These are people who make their livings from YouTube videos. NONE of What Did You Look Up on Wikipedia?‘s videos are currently monetized (by us, but that’s a matter for another paragraph). When you take into account beer, snack and superglue (for when I break the tripod), we make negative dollars on our YouTube channel.

We are the smallest of potatoes.

YouTube’s Content ID system is hurting the livelihood of major YouTube artists, but it is also discouraging emerging video artists by indiscriminately making claims on videos with essentially no human participation. The learning curve is steep and it doesn’t bode well for a collaborative online community. I’m going to try to break down what I’ve learned from a few online sources, and talk about how this affects us. Mostly, it just really pisses me off.

The following videos and article helped me to better understand the ins and outs of YouTube the way it currently works:

Angry Joe, “YouTube Copyright – What’s Broken and How to Fix It.” 

Fraser from Awesome Video Games, “YouTube vs. Gamers?” 

Captain Sparklez, “Content ID and YouTube’s Copyright Catastrophe.”

Owen Good on Kotaku, “YouTube’s Copyright Crackdown: Everything You Need to Know.” 

Since video gamers and reviewers have been at the forefront of this conversation, all of these are from YouTubers in the gaming community, but I think the points they raise are valid for any video that uses outside content, like music or movie footage.

The Difference Between Flagging and Content ID Matches: An Education 

Since starting our channel in June 2013, What Did You Look Up on Wikipedia? has gotten one flag, on a particularly well-known song that we’ve since replaced. We had to go to “Copyright School” and replace the music in question in order to make sure we didn’t get a strike (3 strikes and your account is closed). YouTube Copyright School is a video featuring cute animated animals (Happy Tree Friends) that teaches you not how to violate copyright. You take a quiz and if you pass, your account remains in good standing.

Who’s the cutest copyright violator?

We’ve also gotten about three or four Content ID Match notices. At first, I kept freaking out about it, immediately changing (or freaking out at Sally to change) the music in the video. As I’ve learned though, three or four Content ID matches aren’t that big of a deal. In his video,“You Tube vs. Gamers?”  reviewer Fraser shares his Video Manager screen, which seems to have at least 20 Content ID Match notices on it. Most of these he doesn’t mess with in any way and here’s why: Flagging is done by real people. Your video can be flagged for inappropriate material (“hateful or abusive” material, for example) or flagged by someone who claims to own the copyright for something in your video. Content ID Matches, unlike flags, are automatically generated, which means that unless you dispute the claim, a human being is not likely to even know it happened.

How it works is that a copyright holder – video game makers, record companies, etc., upload their libraries to YouTube’s Copyright Bot. I don’t know if this is the official term for it, but it’s the term I’m using. This bot then finds all matches in uploaded videos and puts this automated link on your Video Manager which looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 12.17.56 PM

It also diverts any monetization from ads on your video to the claimant until you take down the video or dispute the claim successfully. As I mentioned before, What Did You Look Up on Wikipedia? hasn’t monetized any of our videos, which means when there’s a Content ID claim, they slap an ad on the video in question and the claimant starts getting all the revenue from it.

YouTube’s New Rules and the Crackdown on Let’s Plays

This bullshittery has recently been forced into the spotlight by game reviewers because (as far as I gather), YouTube has begun to crack down on Content ID matches with video game footage. In January, this crackdown will extend to Major Channel Networks which had previously been sheltered from such scrutiny, as YouTube expected the channel to take responsibility for the content of their affiliates. These affiliates are generally the people I mentioned before, those who actually make a living off of monetized YouTube videos. Video game footage presents a particularly hairy problem for reviewers and Let’s Players since the footage is technically licensed and in YouTube’s copyright library. However, many (but not all) video game makers welcome these kinds of videos because it’s free marketing and mutually beneficial to both the gamer and the company. Content ID notices happen whether or not the company wants them to and it can be time consuming and problematic for video artists and video game companies to sort it out, even when both of them agree on the usage of copyrighted footage.

Angry Joe does a particularly good job on detailing this type of situation.

The Curious Case of Episode 20 

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 2.48.06 PMSmooth criminals.

Okay, so What Did You Look Up on Wikipedia? doesn’t use video game footage. But we do use music, and as I mentioned, sometimes the Content ID match comes up on our Video Manager. We usually change it, fearing the wrath of YouTube. In doing so, we lose our view count, but better safe than sorry, we say to ourselves. But I was all like WHAT THE WHAT when a 3rd Party Content Match came up on Episode 20 aka The Gossip Girl Episode. Unlike the other music, which we have typically taken from SoundCloud’s collection of music under Creative Commons, this track had come from the FREE MUSIC ARCHIVE and was also under a CC License. I mean it’s called Free Music Archive. I was confused. The music in question was “XX” by The Womb and according to YouTube’s bot, was being claimed by an entity named CD Baby.

This is what CD Baby looks like in my dreams.

Doing a little research, I learned that CD Baby is an online music store that was founded in 1997 and serves as a distributor for artists, focusing first on CDs, and then including downloads like iTunes. However, CD Baby is not a record company and it does not own the rights to the music. So I was like, huh? However, it appears that  CD Baby does have a program to help get artists ad revenue through YouTube. And I hope it’s legit, because my main beef with the automated system is that you have no idea who’s really benefitting or if the claimant is even aware what’s happening. Furthermore, almost all of the YouTubers I’ve watched talk about this are rightfully mad as hell that the monetization isn’t shared.

For example, if you make a 5 minute video of your own content, but use 10 seconds of someone else’s music and a Content ID claim is made, the claimant then gets all of the revenue from ads on your video, even though the majority of your video is content you created. A video that took you a week to make from start to finish. Yes, we used their music, but we didn’t make money off it, we acknowledged it’s creator and shouldn’t we be getting some of that ad revenue?

Potential Solutions 

YouTubers have suggested a few possible ways to refine YouTube’s Content ID system.  Captain Sparklez suggests that when a Content ID match is found, that the copyright holder gets an automated email about it, and s/he (or they) can decide how to deal with it, instead of just using a system that indiscriminately punishes the uploader. Angry Joe suggests that video artists and other content creators (video games, music) should each get a percentage of ad revenue, since they each created a percentage of what’s used in the video.

A Steep Learning Curve for Emerging Artists

No one is born a ninja. Except maybe those turtles.

Most of the complaints are coming from YouTube channels who make a decent amount of money from their videos. The reason I wanted to post this is because the thing that really gets my goat is that YouTube and Google aren’t doing much to educate new users along the way. Your video content can be claimed, then monetized by the claimant and you have no idea what’s going on. Where’s the money going? You’re not entirely sure, because no human being ever bothers to email you and say, “hey, you used our stuff and we want ad revenue” or “hey, can you take our music off of your video’? New video makers need to hear these things because sometimes they honestly don’t know what the hell they’re doing. They need to hear them because if they don’t exactly know why their video has a notice on it, they may do it again. Or they may decide to stop using YouTube.

All 3rd Party Content ID matches are NOT made equal. There’s a difference between uploading a full episode of Downton Abbey and using a CC Licensed song in a video that you made. Basically, I’m just calling for YouToogle to start connecting people with each other instead of leaving it all up to robots.

There’s no electromagnet button in the YouTube matrix.

If we can get real human interaction when dealing with Content ID disputes, it’ll mean that those who make videos can better collaborate with musicians, artists, game makers, etc. to ensure that everyone benefits.

Whew. If you’re still there, thanks for reading.  —-Kristin

Images: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau, YouTube, Cutest Paw, InMagine, Monsters and Beasts

What Did You Look Up on Wikipedia? The Trailer

YouTube has a space for a “channel trailer” and so we thought it was about time we created our own. Enjoy, and if you’re on YouTube, subscribe!

We also wanted to talk this opportunity to do a little reaching out to the artistic community because we love collaborating and it’s about time we said it out loud:

TO MUSICIANS: We often scour SoundCloud for music clips to play at the end of our episodes. We link back to the artist’s SoundCloud in the “About” section of the video. If you want to work with What Did You Look Up on Wikipedia, you can send an email to whatdidyoulookup (at) gmail (dot) com. We LOVE LOVE (cannot CAPS enough) using music in our videos and especially want to work more with indie artists in the future. Right now we have $0 budget so payment is in publicity only. Send us your stuff!

GRAPHIC DESIGNERS/ARTISTS: We are constantly in need of help designing things. Our website is not exactly up to par and we really want some business cards, but haven’t found the right look. So if you have an idea for some visual promotion, send it our way! Again, payment is only in promotion and publicity but you can guarantee we will shout your name from the rooftops.

And now for some of the aforementioned shouting:

Reinhardt Suarez ( did our incredible voiceover.

KingHyenX (…) did the epic trailer music.

Much love and thanks to them both!

Behind the Music: The Pork Chop Express

Hi everyone, Kristin here. At the end of Episode 6, there’s a snippet of a song called Mission by The Pork Chop Express, fronted by two dudes very close to my heart, Reinhardt Suarez (who is also the intrepid co-host of Episode 6) and Wes Alexander, composer, musician and all around creative genius. The Pork Chop Express is named after the truck of the same name that appears in the movie Big Trouble in Little China, starring Kurt Russell.

I always compare The Pork Chop Express to Tenacious D, though their projects go beyond music. They’ve collaborated on a combo book + album, which you can buy at everyone’s favorite megastore. For a mere $2.99, you get the downloadable novel. At the end of the book are instructions on how to get a free download of their album with the same name, The Green Ray of the Sun. Most recently, Reinhardt and Wes are collaborating on a Twitter serial story based on the Sesame Street movie Follow that Bird.

Behind the Music: Louchie Lou & Michie One

Hi everyone, Kristin here! Ever since I learned the basics of editing video from the fine folks at Fire Escape Films, one of my favorite parts has been to add the musical soundtrack. The nature of What Did You Look Up on Wikipedia? does not really call for too much soundtrack work, but I always like to add in a little something-something at the beginning or end, preferably something that goes with a theme in the video.

Now, doing this for a YouTube series can be tricky since you don’t want your music to be muted by a copyright infringement claim. It’s been fun for me to search for the music I want (mainly covers of stuff I want to use but can’t) and download them for videos. I can give lesser known musicians a little exposure and (hopefully) not get sued.

In Episode 4  Sally and I talked a lot about Gwen Stefani and sung some bars from Rich Girl. I didn’t actually know until I started looking for a cover of the song that a British reggae duo called Louchie Lou and Michie One were the originators of this song, which itself is already a parody of If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof. Their version of Rich Girl was a single in 1994, ten years before Stefani’s.

I highly recommend that you listen to the song in its entirety. I have to say that I think I like it better than Stefani’s version.