Falling Through the Cracks in YouTube's Copyright System

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Over the last few months, I have become increasingly aware of a fatal flaw in YouTube’s copyright enforcement regime, which frequently leaves non-infringing videos blocked for supposed copyright reasons with literally no recourse for the user and no way to dispute the copyright block.

YouTube’s copyright policies are confusing enough to begin with, as unlike most other video sharing sites, YouTube has not one but TWO overlapping copyright enforcement systems–it’s automated Content ID system, and the regular DMCA takedown regime that all content hosting sites are required to follow by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

 Videos can be blocked/taken down by either system, and each system has its own process for filing a dispute.  If a video is subject to a DMCA takedown notice (which must meet standards established by law), it shows up in your account as “rejected for copyright infringement,” and there will also be a strike placed against your account, which will cause your account to be terminated upon the third strike. If your video makes fair use of the copyrighted content in question or the claim is false, you can file a DMCA counter-notification (also specified by law), and your video will be restored after a waiting period of approximately three weeks.

If a video is identified by YouTube’s automated, media fingerprinting “Content ID” system as containing content by a copyright owner enrolled in the Content ID program, several things can happen. The video can remain viewable, but “monetized,” meaning adds will show next to it; it can be blocked entirely (either worldwide or in selected countries), or in the case of audio-only matches, the sound can be muted. These videos show up on your “My Videos” page as having “matched third party content.” Because this is all done by computer and no form of DMCA takedown notice has been sent, videos blocked in this manner do not cause a strike to accrue against your account. If you want to dispute a Content ID block, there is an easy dispute form which you can fill out, which in most cases will cause the video to be automatically and immediately restored, though it does send a notice of your dispute to the copyright owner.

Here’s where things get tricky, since the copyright owner then has the opportunity to respond to your dispute. Often they will simply ignore it, and after a few months the “View Copyright Info” page for that video will display a message saying “dispute successful” and the content match will soon disappear entirely. On the other hand, what happens if the copyright owner still believes the material is infringing? According to YouTube, this is what is supposed to happen:

If you feel your video has been misidentified by the Content ID system, you can dispute the identification. This involves filling out a short form listing the reason for your dispute. We then notify the content owner whose reference material was matched. The content owner will then review the match. If the content owner disagrees with your dispute for any reason, they will have the option to submit a copyright takedown notice which will result in the disabling of your video and/or penalties against your account. To avoid penalization, only submit legitimate dispute claims.

In other words, if the copyright claimant does not accept your dispute, they have the option of escalating to a formal DMCA takedown notice, in which case YouTube’s other copyright enforcement system kicks in, the video would be taken down again, and a strike would be issued against your account. The user would then have the right to dispute a second time using a DMCA counter-notice, and have the video restored once again. According to the DMCA, this is where the process ends, since only if the copyright claimant notifies the service provider that they intent to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction against your video can the service provider leave it offline. Otherwise they are supposed to restore it after the waiting period established by law.

This is how the copyright dispute process on YouTube is supposed to work: Content ID match (video blocked) -> Content ID dispute (video restored) -> DMCA notice (video re-blocked) -> DMCA counter-notice ->(video restored unless notice of lawsuit given). This is not how it works practice however.

Sometime in the last couple years, YouTube has quietly started acting in a different way, contrary to their stated policy. Instead of requiring copyright owners to file a formal DMCA notice in response to a Content ID dispute, thus allowing users to invoke the DMCA counter-notice process, YouTube allows copyright owners to somehow “confirm” their copyright claim through the Convent ID system and re-impose whatever blocks were originally in place through Content ID. In this case, a message will appear on the user’s “View Copyright Info” page for that video saying, “All content owners have reviewed your video and confirmed their claims to some or all of its content.” After this, as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no way for the user to file a dispute and get their video restored.

I had been hearing reports about this happening for months. Because of my website, fairusetube.org and the video tutorials I have posted on YouTube regarding fair use and the Content ID dispute process, people have been posting comments and sending me messages about this for a while. But until last week, it had not actually happened to me (at least where the video was blocked in the U.S. where fair use applies). Then last week, I noticed one of my older anime music videos was blocked pretty much everywhere, including the U.S., by Content ID. I filed a dispute as I have many other times, and the video was unblocked for a few days, and then re-blocked with the message above. No further Content ID dispute was possible, because the record of my original dispute was still there. And when I tried filing a DMCA counter-notice (I tried twice, using both YouTube’s counter-notice webform and a counter-notice emailed to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), all I got was an automated response essentially telling me this is a Content ID issue not a DMCA issue. Other emails I have sent about this to YouTube’s copyright support address have gone unanswered.

So I’m stuck. My Content ID dispute was rejected, but in a manner other than a DMCA takedown notice, so I am not allowed to take advantage of the DMCA counter-notice process. It appears there truly is no recourse for this situation. My video is blocked, and there is simply no process to file a further dispute and get my video restored again. Contrary to both the takedown process established by law and YouTube’s own stated policy, the condition at the end of the process is that the user’s video remains blocked, rather than remaining up unless notice is given of pending legal action over the video.

This situation is frankly outrageous. It was bad enough when YouTube created the Content ID system in the first place, imposing automated blocks on videos with no regard for fair use. It is even worse now that this system apparently has no effective means of dispute, since whenever a copyright owner chooses to “confirm” their claim (as anecdotal evidence suggests they are doing with increasing frequency), there is nothing users can do to fight it. They are literally stuck in a gap between YouTube’s two competing copyright systems–a black hole which YouTube does not acknowledge even exists, and which, to my knowledge, no one else has ever addressed either. Something must be done about this, since until YouTube’s policy in this situation changes, many videos that are perfectly legal and non-infringing will continue to be unjustly blocked by Content ID with no recourse.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 September 2011 15:40



+7 #1 Mark 2011-09-12 11:32
First of all, I want to tell you I love your site as well as this article (troubling as it is).

My question is, is there a way to force YouTube to either reform its Content ID system or remove it altogether? I ask this because as you are well aware, it's too easily abused and now that the DMCA counter-notice seems to no longer be an option to rectify false flagging of videos, users essentially have no Fair Use rights on the site anymore.
+9 #2 Patrick McKay 2011-09-12 11:43
I'm afraid there really isn't, unless enough people take note of the problems with Content ID and the negative publicity eventually forces them to change. It's too bad really. YouTube created this great forum for cultural creativity, but it is now so strongly biased in favor of big media companies there is very little room left for regular individuals to be creative on their platform.
+2 #3 Mark 2011-09-12 19:58
At least you've contacted them so maybe now that they know of the problem, they'll fix it. I actually tried to find a way to contact YouTube/Google directly to let them know. No luck.
+2 #4 Mel 2011-11-13 02:04
If I might suggest, there may be a solution to the video hung up in process...Take it down, then reupload. That way, they'll have to file a new claim, and you can file a new counterclaim, on the "new" video.
+2 #5 Dinah Tabor 2011-11-21 23:05
Mel, the problem with re-uploading is losing all your views, favorites, etc. I have a new channel that has been up for less than a week. Of the 7 videos I have loaded so far, 2 have been flagged for copyright infringement. I disputed both. The first one immediately went away, but the second one is still lingering. I'm getting a little nervous about getting a strike. But, the whole thing is completely ridiculous. It's over music that was recorded in the 1920s and is not (after meticulous research) under copyright. I am so upset. I could do a stupid dance to Lady Gaga all day long, but try to play some old blues off a crackling 78 and the internet police get called.
+2 #6 Sherif Guirguis 2011-12-05 02:36
Today i uploaded one Video with two of my originals done Live and i got umpg publishing Claiming they have the rights to my Songs that i wrote and own the rights to i guess this Flagging is out of control i already disputed this so called false claim by umpg it might take a Lawsuit to wake them up from randomizing certain titles with knowing the Content
0 #7 Dinah Tabor 2011-12-05 08:09
I chickened out. The more research I did, the more I realized that I really had no chance of winning my appeal if I continued with it. I took my video down and changed the music. What I have been forced to do is used a dummy channel and upload a minute snippet of the song I want to use with a photo. If I get a content match, I know not to use that song on my real channel. It's ridiculous, because for every song (in the public domain) I try to use 2 are snagged for copyright infringement. But, yeah, I gave up the fight almost immediately. I didn't allow them to put ads on my channel, but I did take my video down and redid the music. I just decided I didn't want to risk the strike.
+1 #8 Michael Kamm 2012-03-02 15:28
Hello Patrick. Thank you very much for posting this information and helping the YouTube Community. I too have a video that is in this limbo state. I've filed a DMCA counter-notice but as you pointed out, will probably do no good. My particular video located at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tUXAj5POtc&feature=channel_video_title
is only blocked in the USA. I've also made 7 documented attempts to contact Warner Chappell directly. The last, being a Registered Letter. They have yet to reply. It appears that they have found a loophole to utilize in order to censor my video which is clearly "Fair Use". Please contact me with any suggestions that you may have. Thanks again for arming us with knowledge to protect our rights and content. Best wishes.

0 #9 Patrick McKay 2012-03-02 22:24

I'm afraid your situation is far from unique. This is a systemic flaw I've been trying to draw attention to for months. That is what happens when copyright owners are allowed to be the judge of their own claims and unilaterally reject disputes. I'm afraid if you can't contact them and persuade them to release their claim, there is nothing more you can do, except post your video to a different video site like Vimeo that doesn't have automated copyright filters. Ars Technica recently ran a good story highlighting this very problem: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/02/copyright-kings-are-judge-jury-and-executioner-on-youtube.ars. Sorry I can't give you any better help.
0 #10 George Martin 2012-05-18 10:04
I have a video of a cover song which has been blocked.I challenged it with the "fair use" copyright and they rejected my claim and the video is still blocked even though there are hundreds of videos of this same song already on youtube.Why is mine being singled out and nobody else?If I keep it on my channel, what will happen?Is it possible youtube will shut down my channel?I have over 260 videos and this is the only one that has been blocked.Please advise.
0 #11 letycia 2012-08-16 02:22
I'm scared 2 reupload, because it says it might sue me... :sigh:
0 #12 Ryu 2012-08-19 22:50
Let us,chances are silm to none as far as being sued. It's too costly and time consuming.
0 #13 Artmusikhistory 2012-08-23 15:56
I wonder if we could file a class action lawsuit against these companies that are abusing the system. I'm sure they've stolen hundred of thousands already advertising revenue from videos that were forcibly dropped.
+1 #14 Gloria King 2012-09-16 08:37
My channel was suspended and reactivated 4 times last year due to fraudulent copyright claims by a troll who has sabotaged me for 3 years. While I fought one claim and waited, 2 others arrived. The claims used names that are similar to well known corporations and gmail or hotmail addresses. Let's accept that YT is too big and has to handle things in an automated system, but don't tell me that such a large beast cannot have software to detect dodgy claims like these. Trolls are using the lax copyright claim system to sabotage and harass and YT's negligent administration is just another bully helping the bullies. It's a disgrace.
-1 #15 Matti Frost 2013-08-03 13:26
I found one of my videos has three claims against it, by SACEM, UPMG, and BMG Rights Management. It's a cover song I did of Adele's "Someone Like You" (http://youtu.be/T37qBAdsRos). I did all the performance, recording, the video, and my record label even licensed it so it's official. Yet the three entities above claim it is a content ID match for "But Not For Me". I looked up several versions of this song and it's not even close, I don't see how a computer algorithm could match that with my song. I disputed the claims, and UBMG actually rejected my dispute and reinstated the claim. Does... anyone there even LISTEN to the songs and say, oh, OK, that's not what we think it is? I don't get it. And I have no idea how to communicate with anyone at Youtube or these publishing companies to get them to release their claim.
+1 #16 Patrick McKay 2013-08-03 17:50
It's all automated and the music labels always rejected every dispute. The only way to clear the copyright claim is to get to the counter-notice stage and file a counter-notice.

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