In the past few weeks, Youtubers have had a lot of complaints about recent changes made to the site. About a month ago, they instigated a change in the comment system, requiring users to establish a Google Plus account before being able to make a comment on a video. This was met with a lot of anger from some users of the site, but it would seem that most users have gotten used to the new system. Regardless, many still claim that this is just a way for Google Plus to boost its own numbers – and it very well may be. Recent changes to their Content ID system may have been made for similar reasons, although it’s not really as cut and dry as the comment system fiasco. After all, when Youtube tells you that you need to get a Google Plus account to make a comment, the possible ulterior motives are pretty clear. However, in the case of the Content ID program, it might sound like some new problem that is entirely unrelated.
Well, allow me to burst your bubble.
Youtube’s Content ID system has been broken for years. What is troubling is that they haven’t been making any attempts to fix it or make the program run any more efficiently – if anything, it has only gotten worse. As a content creator on Youtube, I have experienced this problem first hand over the past few years. I have some videos which have been incorrectly snagged by the Content ID system well over a dozen times. One such video is a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. which falls under fair use as an educational tool, as well as an example of commentary and criticism. This tribute features his “I Have A Dream” speech, which (I believe) is currently owned by the family of Dr. King. It has been flagged by the Content ID system several times, but not once has the claim been from his family or any company associated with his family. Instead, the claims have all been from record labels and other companies associated with music. The video features absolutely no music, making these claims all the more ridiculous.
If the video doesn’t feature any music, why are all these random artists and record labels claiming that it contains content that they own? Simple. The songs in question actually utilize parts of the “I Have A Dream” speech, which is then being picked up as a match by Youtube’s hopelessly broken Content ID system. Therein lies one of the biggest problems with an automated program such as this: It cannot account for the laws of fair use. Because the artist has used this audio clip in their song, the program automatically assumes that any instance in which this exact same audio clip is used must therefore be copyright infringement. It puts the burden of proof on the user instead of laying the burden of proof squarely where it belongs – on the copyright holder.
In a recent decision, Youtube decided to extend the powers of their Content ID system so that it would affect a much wider audience. They made no attempts to fix anything within the program, they just took the already broken system and forced it onto a much larger crowd. Most notably, this decision has affected several popular channels that created a lot of content related to video games. Because they were posting video game related content, the Content ID system started to pick up several instances of audio or video that was shown within the game and claim it as the property of these random, faceless companies. Interestingly enough, it would appear that few claims were being made by the actual people behind the video games in question; most claims were related to music within the game. Considering their system is notably reliant upon audio, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
What should come as a shock to most of you is that the system still doesn’t pick up a lot of notable and real instances in which copyright infringement is being made. You would think that if this Content ID system was going to start picking up all of these false instances in which the content used actually fell under fair use, they would at least pick up some of the cases where there was actual intellectual property theft going on. Guess what? They haven’t. To serve as proof of how hopelessly broken their Content ID system is, I have had a clip from an old television show owned by Disney up on my channel for years. It has never been caught even once by the system. Similarly, there are several clips from popular television shows and even full movies up on Youtube which have not been given the “OK” by the copyright holders. In other words, while real intellectual property theft is happening before their very eyes on this site, Youtube is too busy hitting their content creators with false claims to actually do anything about the real problem.
This is indicative of a systemic problem at Youtube which began the second that Google bought the website. They don’t care if their Content ID system actually works, they’re going to extend its use because shareholders will love it. Google knows that there are major bucks invested in these copyrighted works, but as long as they can create a convincing headline which makes it look like they’re actually doing something about the problem, their shareholders will love them for it. They don’t care if they hurt the actual content creators on Youtube; what they care about is improving their image with stock owners and increasing their bottom line. Yep, that’s right – this whole debacle was just to raise the price of their stock. Oh, and if you haven’t been paying attention, Google’s stock been steadily rising over the past month. It remained stagnant throughout the majority of the last six months, but in the past month alone it has risen quite a bit.
So you see, as long as they are making more money, they don’t care if they actually fix the very real problem at hand here. No, all Google cares about is looking like they have fixed the problem, even if that hurts the people who are making them money. Remember when Google’s corporate motto was “don’t be evil”? Well, I think it’s safe to say that they’ve officially gone back on their word. This is no longer the same company that it once was. In a sense, Google has become a lot like Ebenezer Scrooge, hurting the little guy in order to make a little bit more money. Well, we all know what happened to Scrooge, right?
Several content creators are already jumping ship due to this litany of false claims. In addition to the wider reach of their Content ID system, Google has basically removed instant monetization from the system. What this means is that each video needs to be reviewed by someone before it can have AdSense ads placed on it. This seems like a great idea in theory – that is, if you’re a copyright holder who wants to ensure their content isn’t being used to make someone else money. However, if you are a content creator on Youtube, this means that you basically have to schedule your videos days in advance if you plan to monetize them. Why? It can sometimes take days to get a video approved for monetization.
This changes the entire framework of Youtube, because it means that people will be less likely to create fresh, off-the-cuff content that hasn’t been prepared in advance. For those who like to do topical content, this is like a monkey wrench which is almost impossible to circumvent. Every Youtuber knows that a video gets most of its views within the first few days of its being posted. This means that if you’re waiting for days on end for a video to be monetized, you are missing out on a lot of possible revenue. This hurts not only the content creator, but Youtube as well. However, because it looks good to copyright holders, it only serves to make Google look like the good guys to those that matter.
When faced with the public outrage that came about as a result of their recent changes, Youtube sent out the most condescending form letter imaginable. In this email, they basically told content creators to work around the mess that they have created. They put the burden on the creator to refute content ID claims, showing them how to do that and “where to go from here.” Reading the email is almost like reading a pamphlet that your doctor gave to you, but instead of offering advice on how to beat the disease, it basically tells you to just “take it like a man.” I’d say that this attitude surprises me, but nothing Google does really surprises me anymore. I’ve been dealing with this attitude for years now.
When it comes to AdSense, it used to be that you could contact their customer support if you had any kind of issue whatsoever. However, in recent years they have made it so that you cannot contact them for any reason unless you earn a certain amount of money per week. This effectively cuts off a large amount of their content creators from their services. Oh, you can still use their ad program, but they won’t help you if you have some kind of issue. In fact, they will send you messages demanding that you change something about your site, but their demands will be so vague that you’ll want to ask them what the exact problem is. Unfortunately, if you don’t earn enough money, you won’t be able to ask them what the problem is. In this manner, Google has effectively been eliminating start-up websites from their services so that they can attempt to focus on bigger fish. Of course, this just makes it that much more difficult for a start-up to make any progress, but Google doesn’t care about that. At this point, it should be clear that they only care about one thing: their bottom line.
So much for “don’t be evil.” Google has essentially become that evil, faceless corporation they supposedly didn’t want to become. They don’t care about the little people, they just care about money. Even though the burden of proof should be on the copyright holder, they’d rather put that burden on the content creator because it makes them look good to the people who have fat wallets. Something tells me that if they continue to insist upon taking this approach with Youtube, they will soon find that the site has been mostly deserted. I’m sure they think that they are too big to fail, but it has been proven time and time again that there is no such thing. Every major corporation falls in the end when they rely strictly upon avarice.