YouTube's Merry Christmas: Letting Large Music Publishers Steal Money From Guy Singing Public Domain Christmas Carol

from the contentid-is-broken dept

Yet another in our ongoing series of stories concerning YouTube’s broken ContentID system. While the company has still mostly remained mute over its recent policy change, which resulted in a ton of bogus ContentID claims, an even worse problem is that ContentID does serious harm to fair use and public domain videos. The latest example of this comes from Adam Manley, who recently posted a nice video about the month of December and how awesome it is. The second half of the video has him singing the famous song “Silent Night.”


“Silent Night” was composed in 1818. It is, without question, in the public domain. There is no question about this at all. Adam’s rendition of the song is him singing it alone (so not using anyone else’s recording). There is simply no question at all that what he did does not violate anyone’s copyright. At all.

So, what happened? YouTube’s ContentID told him that he received not one, not two, but three separate copyright claims on the video, from three of the largest music publishers in the world — basically all of the publishing arms of the major labels. Actually, it’s worse than that. Because when he first published the video, he got a notice that ContentID had found a hit from “one or more music publishing rights societies.” Adam disputed it, pointing out that the work was in the public domain, and YouTube “acknowledged and dropped” the claim. The very next day, however, he got hit again, with completely bogus claims from BMG, Warner Chappell and UMPG Publishing (Universal Music’s publishing arm).

Yes, not only did YouTube’s ContentID hit him with an initial bogus claim, even after he disputed it with the basic logic that the song was written in 1818 and is in the public domain, YouTube came back the next day anyway and hit him with three more bogus copyright claims from three of the biggest music publishers in the world. Basically, the music publishing world, with an assist from YouTube, is making sure that Adam can’t get any of the money he rightfully earned from singing a public domain song — with those publishers stealing it instead. Adam has disputed the claims as well, and while BMG was quick to relent, the other two have not, leaving Adam in a lurch.

Adam’s post is interesting. He points out that he’s used YouTube to make claims against others using his own work, so he sees the value of ContentID, but his mind is changing on the overall value of the program:


As an independent content creator, it is absurd, ridiculous, and downright insulting that I can have my content de-monetized based on a completely fraudulent claim. The fact that the claims are based on an automated system doesn’t make it any better. If anything, it makes me think the automated system should not be in place. Or at the very least, it needs a major overhaul, and a lot more human eyes involved before action is taken.

Now, I’ve been on the other side of this a few times. I didn’t deal with the automated system, but I’ve had to have content taken down for infringing on my copyrights (I generally leave remixed videos alone, but I’ve had to keep an eye out for complete re-uploads of entire videos). So I do understand the point of view of the rights holders who are trying to keep hold of their content. And when I’ve been in that situation, I’ve appreciated the prompt action taken on my behalf against infringing content.

But we’re playing with people’s income, here, and I don’t think an automated system should be in charge of that. Certainly not one that apparently has public domain songs registered to it. Anything fitting that description should only be acted upon once a human eye has reviewed it. Perhaps a different category within the content ID system is needed. A category for protecting specific recordings and arrangements of public domain content, but without YouTube’s entirely too impressive ability to recognize the similarities of someone singing their own version.

This has been a major complaint against ContentID for years, and it’s one of the main reasons why people are so concerned with automated determinations of potential infringement — something the recording and movie industries have been pushing to be mandated by law in various places. This is yet another reason why the idea that it’s “easy” to automatically find and deal with infringement is so technically illiterate. The false positives have very real consequences — sometimes to the point of taking money from independent content creators like Adam, and handing it over to the major labels represented by the RIAA and NMPA.

But it’s also a condemnation of ContentID itself and how YouTube handles it. If you’re dealing with a work that has already been reviewed to be public domain, YouTube should make the system recognize that any future claims should at least be reviewed before being applied.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: bmg, google, umpg, universal music publishing, warner/chappell, youtube

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Comments on “YouTube's Merry Christmas: Letting Large Music Publishers Steal Money From Guy Singing Public Domain Christmas Carol”

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52 Comments
Jeffsays:

Very easy to fix this

If YouTube etc want to keep their automated “take it down immediately” tools then they should implement a replace lost income plus a big fat fine and paying all legal fees to harmed party for filing a FALSE claim on someone else’s stuff. There is NO WAY that YouTube or anyone else (that controls the medium) should have an issue with this. The only ones that would be against this would be anyone who wants to abuse the system the way it is.

Pretty simple unless the conveyance vehicles are in cahoots with the big players.

Bergmansays:

Re: Very easy to fix this

Hey, the MAFIAA keep insisting that whether or not something is infringing should be obvious to anyone who looks at it…so the reverse would necessarily be true as well, right?

Just as it’s “easy” to know when something infringes, it’s at least as obvious when something doesn’t infringe or the claim of infringement is fraudulent.

If someone is obviously making fraudulent claims, then they SHOULD be financially liable for any damage they do, right?

CharlieBrownsays:

I Quit YouTube

I put up some public domain cartoons. They were cartoons known to be in the public domain since the 1960’s at best, 1980’s at worst. One, from 1942, got a copyright claim by INgrooves claiming it was a recording by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. I disputed it. They upheld the claim. So I deleted the video. No money for them! But no views or comments for me either. And already being fed up with their new comments system, I just quit. Dealing with YouTube is not worth the hassle in my opinion.

That One Guysays:

Re: I Quit YouTube

Yeah, unless YT/Google does something to solve the massive problems the ContentID system has currently, where people and companies can just go around claiming everyone else’s stuff with no penalty for clearly bogus claims, more and more people are likely to follow suit and leave.

Why for example would a game reviewer, like AngryJoe, want to spend dozens of hours(I believe he estimated something like 20 hours of work for a single review vid) on a review when as soon as he puts it up it’s claimed by someone else, and all the revenue from it goes to them instead of him?

People like that make their livings off of the money from their videos, and with no money, that means no vids created. Same thing with those that review movies, or do lets-plays for games, with how the system is setup, and the greed of companies pushing it to be even more broken, it’s only a matter of time before people like that leave the site for good.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: I Quit YouTube

Google really had to start getting hard on items like this because they never intended to allow people to make money directly off YouTube. That wasn’t the point, all its done is open up Google to a vast legal responsibility, as the content publishers can attack the big Google instead of some random internet troll using videos as a replacement to a minimum wage job.

Anonymoussays:

Re: I Quit YouTube

Youtube is spiraling. Their playlists are very buggy, their playback quality random and their comments locked down to G+-only. Add a massive ramp-up of harrassment on the people uploading by bots and a semimonopoly and we are talking a massive target on their back from all sides (copyright holders of larger size will never be satisfied with online competition on attention span)!

That One Guysays:

Re: Not to troll ootb...

While it’s certainly a nice idea, their actions in the past suggest that they don’t really have the ability to think ahead that well(‘I guess we’ll give in to the *AA’s just this once, I’m sure they’ll be content with that and not come back later demanding more’), so I’d lean more towards a modified Hanon’s Razor, ‘Never attribute to intelligent forward thinking that which is adequately explained by stupidity.’

Anonymoussays:

Re: Need an override

It appears that’s how it works already.

But the issue is that the harm has already been done once its flagged. If the claim holds after you contested it, you’ll get a strike, and that’s non-negotiable..

And, the legalities are becoming such ridiculous nitpicking that even if there was a human reviewer, determining whether it is copyright infringement or not would require a court or someone who actually knows what he’s doing, not some random tech support grunts..

Anonymoussays:

Youtube is a place I don’t go. It has enough problems without my getting all hyped only to find either it’s not up, I’m in the wrong country, it’s filled with ads, or some such other crap like needing one of the most hacked softwares out there, flash.

Not been all that long ago that flash was recommended to be removed from your computer. Between that and the spying through the flash cookies, it’s not on this computer.

Just Sayin'says:

The real issue here

The real issue is that there are any number of valid, COPYRIGHT versions of this song out there right now. This guy is a “victim” of contentID, but he is also a victim of a system so full of people ripping others off that there has to be an automated way to check it.

The problems for Google / Youtube is that they absolutely insist on avoiding humans working, relying entirely on automation and NOT hiring enough people to review claims properly. They are bottom line oriented companies who figured out that keeping the content companies happy was way better for their bottom line than making their filtering system work correctly and to deal with consumers directly. Just try to get tech support from Google or Youtube, there ain’t no humans to be found!

Anonymoussays:

...and that's the point

The false positives have very real consequences — sometimes to the point of taking money from independent content creators like Adam, and handing it over to the major labels represented by the RIAA and NMPA.

That’s why they want automated systems and ‘quick action.’ Law of Averages and plain old legal/lobbying muscle will ensure that they get paid more often than not. And if they can get royalties on public domain works, and there’s no one to claim those monies, well…

Davidsays:

Re: ...and that's the point

And if they can get royalties on public domain works, and there’s no one to claim those monies, well…

You are confused. When there are royalties for a performance, they are split according to some key between performers, composers, lyricists and so on. If any of the possible royalty recipients has had his rights pass into the public domain, the stuff is just split among fewer parties.

What we are talking about here is not “nobody claiming those moneys”. We are talking about the RIAA stealing most of the royalties belonging to the performer of a public domain work. There is, by default, a claim to all of any related royalties as long as the performer has not explicitly relinquished his performance into the public domain (not even possible in some jurisdictions).

If you perform a work in the public domain, you are entitled to the royalty cuts for composer, lyricist, arranger and performer.

That’s what “public domain” means: free for the taking. If someone else takes up your performance and works from it, he is entitled to the cuts for composer and lyricist, but if he is taking your arrangement (and you have not died more than 90 years ago, a real concern for most vampires), then you are entitled to royalties for that.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: ...and that's the point

You are confused. When there are royalties for a performance, they are split according to some key between performers, composers, lyricists and so on. If any of the possible royalty recipients has had his rights pass into the public domain, the stuff is just split among fewer parties.

You missed out the biggest entitlement to royalties, the publisher or label.

/sarc, maybe.

btr1701says:

Re:

The notes “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti and Do”
> and any combination of said notes thereof
> are all copyrighted

I know you were just joking, but those notes don’t actually exist. They’re markers for the various notes that make up a major scale. The actual notes of the scale differ depending on the key. It’s like ‘x’ in algebra. It has a different value depending on the equation in which it’s used.

balaknairsays:

“The false positives have very real consequences — sometimes to the point of taking money from independent content creators like Adam, and handing it over to the major labels represented by the RIAA and NMPA.”

As far as the **AA’s are concerned, that’s not a bug, that’s a feature. It’s the second best option for them (the first being that no-one be able to publish except through them.)

Carlie J. Coats, Jr.says:

Re: Re: Why isn't this slander?

Point taken: OK. libel, instead — upon closer examination, the distinction seems to rely upon the transitoriness of the statement (is email transitory? …under US law, it may well be, which is what I was basing the “slander” on; I was equating email with spoken communication).

Wikipedia lists three points which need to be satisfied for a statement to be libel in the US:

  • was false,
  • caused harm, and
  • was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement.

All three seem to be true in this case.

On the other hand (taking the precedent from the behavior of patent trolls), really massive discovery may be necessary in order to establish the inadequacy of the research and (for punitive damages) the degree to which this inadequate research is an established practice).

That One Guysays:

Re:

Because if it was used against them like that you can bet the matter would be straightened out within days, and the one filing the bogus claims would likely find themselves faced with a permanent ban from ever posting on YT again.

That’s if the major label stuff was claimable like that in the first place, good odds are any claims made against them would just bounce off the system, as it was automatically denied. If one of the major labels (UMG I think) can get it so any claims they make against other people’s uploads are automatically upheld, where you can’t dispute it, you can bet they’ve thought ahead enough, and have enough pull, to be immune to all of the system’s downsides.

PaulTsays:

Re:

You’re making the mistaken assumption that the rules are applied equally. They’re not – they’ve bought a system that errs on their side every time.

Ordinary people trying to game the system will be blocked, banned and perhaps even have the perjury penalties of the DMCA applied against them. Doubly so if they’re targeting the major corporate players, who probably wouldn’t even have their videos taken down for a second while the claims are being processed. The risks taken by independent artists and creators don’t apply to them.

bubbasays:

Same problem

I had similar problems. Put up a song in the public domain and it gets tagged and you can fight it for months and months, loosing money all the time. And then someone stole some of my videos and I complained. What does YouTube do? They cancel my account. Not only do they do that, but they make it impossible to go to YouTube to then try to argue your position! My content is still there, someone else is making money on it, and I am blocked from accessing YouTube while logged into my Gmail account! There are no humans to talk to!

Canonymous Awardsays:

Sort of on/off topic

Just want to say that copyright law is overblown when compared to patent law..the 20 years an inventor is granted protection is BS! Why does an ‘artist’ get LIFETIME + 50 years for their family (who did NOT create the ‘art’)? Inventors are the ones who should get lifetime protection, since bringing an item to market is no easy task! Pease, someone with power, take up this cause to turn this around!

Jeffsays:

Very easy to fix this problem

If YouTube etc want to keep their automated “take it down immediately” tools then they should implement a replace lost income plus a big fat fine, for filing a FALSE claim on someone else’s stuff. Tere is NO WAY that YouTube nor anyone else (that controls the medium) should have an issue with this. The only ones that would be against this would be anyone who wants to abuse the system the way it is.

Pretty simple unless the conveyance vehicles are in cahoots with the big players.

Anonymoussays:

the biggest problem, as always is that very little notice is usually taken of anyone disputing something over copyright but everything stops, all notice is taken of and all actions taken that can be taken when the dispute involves the major labels and/or studios. no checking is carried out first, which is exactly what those labels and studios want, because it is expensive. had Congress done what it should have and implemented fines for copyright abuse equal to real claims, there would be little of this. i dont understand, with so much going on, why no one has tried to get a new bill introduced that will actually cover this.

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