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YouTube’s Content ID Is Not About Copyright Law

Anger over the Content ID system should be directed at YouTube, not copyright law.

There has been a lot of anger and confusion over the past week involving the YouTube Content ID system. Many content creators have ranted against YouTube and Content ID, and these rants usually include something about copyright law, the fair use exception, or the DMCA.


These content creators have a lot to complain about, and their complaints about YouTube and the Content ID system are spot on, but any complaints about copyright law are misplaced. I am no defender of copyright law, but it is important to have valid complaints to know where reform is needed.


First, let’s talk about what the Content ID system is not:


Content ID has nothing to do with the DMCA.


Content ID doesn’t care about fair use.


Content ID is not governed by copyright law.


Now, let’s talk about what Content ID is:


Content ID is YouTube taking advantage of their market share. That’s it. There isn’t any legal talk necessary.


YouTube has permission from their users to monetize any content that is uploaded, and YouTube can choose who gets the money. In most cases that is the content creator who uploads the video, and a portion to YouTube. Now, YouTube is starting to arbitrarily give money to third parties based on Content ID matches. The problem is YouTube doesn’t want copyright owners, who are on the lookout for potentially infringing material, to send a DMCA takedown notice and deprive YouTube of that content. Instead, YouTube has introduced Content ID as an alternative that encourages copyright owners to let the content to stay up, but take the money for themselves. YouTube even dresses up the system with the language of copyright law to make it seem more legitimate and disguise the fact that it is all governed by the terms of service.


The Content ID system may have merit, but the sudden ratcheting of claims, combined with fraudulent claims, and the all or nothing monetization approach, has led to the events of the past week.

If YouTube wants to, they can turn off Content ID tomorrow and suffer no direct legal consequences from copyright law. There might be more pressure on them in terms of complying with the DMCA, but the Content ID system is their creation and they have the responsibility to make it work. YouTube has a dominant market share, but policies such as this will hurt that position.

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