Tube Arcanum

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The YouTube Copyright Claim System is a Broken Hot Mess

Copyright laws have been around for quite some time. And when it comes to online content, it’s reminiscent of the wild west. Especially when it comes to the copyright systems of YouTube.

Don’t get me wrong, being able to claim materials as your own is important. After all, there are a lot of shady folks out there who want to make a quick buck off of what you create.

However, too many people will use the YouTube copyright claim as a way to silence or harm others. Unfortunately, all it takes is three copyright strikes to take down a channel regardless if the material is fair use or not.

Because much of YouTube is automated, these claims will slip past human reviewers and ultimately sink a channel simply because a creator didn’t like another.

What Does a Copyright Claim Mean on YouTube?

A copyright claim is when an original owner of the content can submit for removal or establishes a Content ID claim. This happens often with music, movie clips, and sometimes gameplay (if you’re Nintendo).

Of these two, the Copyright Removal Request is more of the nuclear option. That’s because it often results in a copyright strike against the offending channel.

This is the method some channel owners use when trying to disrupt or delete another and is probably the more broken of the two. That’s because of how automated YouTube has become due to its sheer size on the Internet.

When you have to sift through 3.7 million videos uploaded every day, that’s a lot of content to monitor. So, of course, YouTube needs some form of automation.

Copyright Removal Requests

Filing a copyright removal request is when a content creator submits that the content in question does not meet the definition of Fair Use. As such, they can submit a request for YouTube to have the video taken down.

If the video has been found in violation of regional copyright laws, then the video is removed and a copyright strike is placed on the offending channel.

This is where things can take a turn for the worse.

If someone feels that your portrayal of them is unfair or damages your reputation in any way, you can file the removal request with very little evidence. It doesn’t matter if the allegations are true or false. The automated system will proceed with the removal request.

Now, once these removal requests are filed and a strike appears on the channel, you can appeal the decision. You’re even provided a method for filing a counter claim. Unfortunately, the playing field isn’t always level.

Sometimes, false claims against a channel will remain because YouTube’s automated system still flags the video. And sometimes, decisions won’t be reached for days if not weeks after an appeal unless you have over a million subscribers and one hell of a social media following who will absolutely keep bugging YouTube.

For the smaller channels, though, it’s an arduous process that has no guarantee of fairness.

Content ID Claims

Content ID works with the automated system to check for copyright materials on YouTube. Creators can submit their copyright-protected materials to YouTube and the system will essentially keep an eye out for infringements.

If you’ve uploaded a video to YouTube, one of the stages is a “Copyright Check.” This is the Content ID system at work.

I’ve seen video uploads flagged simply because the original creator had a Pepsi vending machine in the background. But most often, I’ve seen music get flagged for a myriad of reasons.

The Content ID system works a bit differently than a removal request. Original creators can either block the video outright, monetize your video and take the money, or simply track the video’s viewership statistics.

Another aspect of Content ID is that it can also be regional. You could have a song playing in the background of your video that is partially blocked. This means the video might not appear in certain countries or regions.

Content ID Partially Blocked

To see what part of your video has been identified by the Content ID system, open the video’s details screen and click “Copyright” on the left side.

YouTube will then show the timestamp and the offending content.

YouTube Copyright Screen
Content ID Detected Specific Music in the Video

With this information, you can simply cut those segments out of the video or leave them be if they’re not ultimately hurting your channel.

The important thing to note is that Content ID claims do not result in a copyright strike.

What is a Copyright Strike on YouTube?

A Copyright Strike happens when someone files a claim of copyright-protected material that is beyond fair use. If the automated YouTube copyright system agrees, the video is removed and a strike is issued.

Only one video can receive one strike at a time.

Once a copyright strike appears on your channel, it’ll go away after 90 days. But if you acquire three strikes within that time frame, your channel will be removed from YouTube.

This is the part of the system that is utterly broken. Many creators will abuse the copyright system on YouTube for no other purpose than to get rid of whom they believe as a threat.

This threat could be anything from fact-checking a creator to pointing out frauds, scams, and the like. Sometimes, the nefarious creator will also file a lawsuit, usually claiming defamation of character, to bleed the bank accounts of smaller creators.

False Copyright Claims are Fraud

Depending on the extent of the copyright claim, it could be against the law to do so in your region. In certain areas, you could face fines and jail time for filing a fraudulent DMCA takedown of content.

The bottom line is that there are technically penalties for filing a false copyright infringement claim.

Usually, these will play out in court, which is what some of the larger creators are banking on. Not everyone has the finances to fight a legal claim in court and will simply surrender because they can’t afford to fight the claim.

Filing a Copyright Counter Notification

If you do wind up having a video taken down due to the copyright system on YouTube, you can file a counter notification. This is the form that you’ll use in the event you believe the video was removed due to a mistake or misidentification.

You can file this notification from within your YouTube Creator Studio by accessing the video and going into the details of its restrictions.

The problem is that YouTube’s automated system isn’t perfect. Far from it, actually. Even if you’re using a bit that is clearly fair use, it can still flag the video and keep the strike against your channel.

Depending on the popularity of your channel, it can take a great deal of back-and-forth with YouTube to reverse the decision made by the automated system.

Perhaps one of the more frustrating elements of YouTube is the double standard. On their guidelines, YouTube and Google clearly post that misusing the system can result in losing your channel and other legal consequences.

Yet, very little happens to those who file false claims. Especially if the claim comes from a larger channel with a greater following.

Instead of providing tools for which no one was asking, perhaps they should fix the copyright system.

What is “Fair Use?”

The Fair Use exemption is one of the easiest to prove and defend when it comes to copyright materials. Especially if it’s done so by a human viewer with no bias against a creator.

Unfortunately, that’s the part that helps make the YouTube copyright system such a buggy mess.

In fair use, you can use an unauthorized clip of copyrighted work for:

  • Reporting on the content
  • Providing original commentary
  • Educational materials
  • Parodying the works of others

Usually, people who abuse the copyright system do so on videos that are either “reporting” or “providing original commentary.” They believe that any segment of the video using their content is an infringement.

However, it is technically fair use, especially if the majority of the video is an original recording.

What about content derived from the public domain?

Essentially, the public domain is any work that does not have copyright protections or enters for other reasons. For example, anything produced by the US federal government is technically in the public domain and free to use.

The public domain is different from fair use, but they’re often entangled during a false copyright claim. I’ve even seen this happen with claims against content that used the same royalty-free images as someone else.

Avoiding a Copyright Claim Against Your Channel

If you don’t have the finances or capacity to lawyer up, the best advice is to just avoid copyright claims altogether. Despite creators using the copyright system on YouTube as a weapon, it’s difficult to assert justification.

Especially since so much of the YouTube experience is automated in some form.

Don’t use images, video, sound bites, or other visual elements from another creator. Even if you’re talking about that individual, it’s safer to let your words and personality be the content as a whole.

In the past, videos have been attacked by copyfrauds simply because the creator showed a picture of them in the thumbnail.

Until YouTube takes its own rules seriously, such as misusing the copyright system, it’s safer to avoid confrontation at all costs. That is unless you have the finances to fight the claimant in court or have an overwhelmingly obvious counter claim.

But as I said before, a counter claim doesn’t always work even if the content is undoubtedly fair use.

How Often Do You See a Copyright Claim on YouTube?

Perhaps the most common copyright issue I see on YouTube is when playing music during a live stream. Especially on the gaming channel. However, it never resulted in a strike against the channel.

Still, I see videos of copyright drama all the time on YouTube. And I’m holding out hope that one day, YouTube will find a way to play fair for everyone.

Michael Brockbank

Michael Brockbank

Michael has been managing YouTube channels for the better part of a decade. He's continuously working to find the best methods that work for various types of content from gaming to website tutorials.

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