28 12 / 2013


YouTube is great, right? Free video hosting no matter how many views you get and, hey, if you get lots of views, you get paid. Problem is, if I’m uploading episodes of Family Guy and lots of people are watching it, not only do I not deserve money, I deserve to be fined and possibly put in jail. 

This was YouTube’s biggest problem for the first few years it existed. In order to handle this they created an extremely sophisticated piece of technology that watches every single video ever and compares it to a library of pretty much ever piece of media copyrighted by mainstream media (and also lots of non-mainstream stuff added since then.) 

It’s pretty amazing that YouTube can do this…every single video compared against every song, video, movie, clip, sound effect, etc EVER…all instantaneously. I mean, it’s probably the most amazing piece of technology that YouTube has created. 

It’s called Content ID, and it’s the reason why YouTube wasn’t sued out of existence in 2011. It’s also the reason why I (and many other people) can make a living on YouTube. 

Of course, it also causes problems and can be gamed and used to make money by people who don’t deserve money. And since YouTube is so massive, there’s no way for them to handle things like fair use, which allow for a certain amount of use of copyrighted content as part of commentary or criticism. 

So in addition to being amazing Content ID is also a pain in the butt. 

Eventually, some creators (large companies, mostly) were granted the ability to handle copyright for themselves, so their videos didn’t go through the same rigorous copyright procedures as the rest of YouTube. That ability also came with two very important features:

  1. You can insert your content into the Content ID library, so the rest of YouTube is checked against it.
  2. You can add channels into your system so those channels, likewise, do not have to be policed like the rest of YouTube.

This is how MCNs (multi-channel networks) were created. They provide services for creators, add them under their parent channel, and those channels give up a portion of revenue (all of the revenue comes in through the parent channel.) 

The problem with this, however, is that a lot of networks offered only one service…they umbrella’d them under their “network” so that didn’t have to deal with YouTube’s copyright system. Soon it became obvious that, if you were a gamer and you didn’t want to have your videos claimed and taken down all the time, all you had to do was give away 30% of your revenue to a network, and they’d take care of all those pesky copyright problems. They’d “handle it.”

This is bad business…YouTube was simply allowing these companies to make tons of money by selling the ability to avoid the one thing that stands between them and being sued out of existence.

So a couple weeks ago, they closed the loophole. They said “Hey, networks, if you want to accept liability for your channel’s content, tell us that…but if we catch them violating copyright, YOU are responsible, and YOU will get fined…or possibly kicked off YouTube entirely.

"But if you don’t want to take responsibility, releases those channels into the normal, every-day, this-is-how-we-police-YouTube-videos-system that everyone who isn’t on a network has to deal with."

And so networks did that, they released the vast majority of their channels into the same system that anyone who isn’t signed has been dealing with for years. And yes, there are flaws with that system, but it was always the system for people who weren’t paying a big company their hard-earned money to exploit a loophole for them. 

This problem has a lot of sources:

  1. Networks were attracting people to them by offering a workaround of YouTube’s copyright procedures and that was unsustainable.
  2. Video game companies have built libraries inside of Content ID and they may not have realized what that meant for gaming videos on YouTube.
  3. Other video game companies really are dopey enough to think that they deserve the revenue someone makes with a gameplay or walkthrough video…or that gaming content is anything but free advertising for them.
  4. Copyright is complicated and there simply is no perfect way to scan and police the 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every single minute. 

I’m not one to keep quiet when YouTube is screwing up…obviously, but this is a really freaking complicated problem and I don’t think YouTube did the wrong thing here by closing the MCN copyright loophole. 

Maybe they should have been a little more careful about it, but I honestly believe that this is an overall good thing for the YouTube ecosystem because it means that the problems with Content ID will actually be addressed.

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