The Great YouTube Copyright Shakeup

YouTube MCN LogoWhile YouTube, in recent years, has made great strides in trying to work with content creators whose works are uploaded to the site without permission, there’s no secret that the solution, YouTube’s automated content matching tool, Content ID, has left a great deal to be desired.

These problems have impacted some types of channels more than others. As I discussed back in 2011, review channels are among the most impacted as they have to make use of copyrighted works in order to produce their product. News channels, parody artists and music channels have all also had problems as well.

However, the gaming community, arguably, has had the largest amount of trouble. Video game channel videos, including “Let’s Play” videos, reviews, news shows and guides all make use of video and audio content from third parties. That content can often trigger Content ID matches that can make it difficult to monetize videos as most channels have to go through an approval process, one that can take several days, to monetize videos.

To combat this, gamers, as well as other YouTubers, formed Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) that partnered more closely with YouTube. These MCNs basically operated like agents for the affiliate channels, taking the affiliates under their monetization platform. The affiliates give up a percentage of their revenue and, in exchange, the MCN’s partnership guarantees that they have immediate approval for monetization among other services.

Theoretically, especially when combined with cross promotion efforts, the affiliate gets more monetized views and, even with the cut taken, makes more money.

However, that seems to be changing and not in a way that has made many YouTubers happy.

A Change in Policy

ContentID ImageEarlier this month, YouTube announced changes to its MCN policies. It asked all MCNs to specify whether the channels were “Managed”, meaning that they are directly controlled by the MCN, or “Affiliates”, meaning they are simply affiliates to the network. Most channels in MCNs fall under the latter category.

Under the new policy, MCN affiliates would no longer be free from monetization reviews. Instead, their content would be at least occasionally reviewed before monetization is allowed. Channels with greater trust would be reviewed less but those with more issues would be reviewed more.

But while YouTube initially said that there would not be an issue with Content ID matches, today news has been spreading that channels marked as MCN affiliates have been having their content repeatedly flagged by a Content ID sweep, with many videos having monetization disabled due to included copyrighted content. This is most likely because YouTube is going through and scanning all MCN affiliate channels with Content ID, something it hadn’t done before, and is flagging matching content, new and old.

Though the problem was initially blamed on Nintendo, it’s now clear that the content matches come from a variety of copyright holders including game developers, record labels and music publishers.

In short, copyright holders don’t appear to be doing anything different, but rather, YouTube is changing the way it approaches MCN affiliate channels and, as it goes through the backlog of previously unscanned content, is finding a large number of matching videos. Because of that, countless videos are, seemingly out of nowhere, being flagged as containing copyrighted material.

The Future of Gaming and MCNs on YouTube

Without a doubt the changes are going to have an impact on MCNs. Though MCNs provide affiliates a number of benefits, including advertising support, promotion, guidance and even production facilities in some cases, a large part of the dynamic was the protection from copyright claims and assistance with monetization.

This was because the MCN, essentially, took responsibility for the content of its affiliate channels and its agreement with YouTube allowed them to provide such shelter. However, with the recent changes, that shelter is, more or less, gone. MCN affiliates are going to have to decide for themselves if that relationship is worthwhile and, when their contracts expire, decide whether or not to renew.

However, the bigger impact is going to be YouTube itself and, in particular, the gaming community. The MCN system had been a means for channels to avoid copyright issues that plagued many others. This was especially important for video games, which made heavy use of copyrighted works and would often run afoul of YouTube’s automated matching system, whether the content was infringing or not.

Inevitably, this is going to have an impact on the type of content that’s posted to YouTube. Less third party content, even for legitimate purposes, and more original footage, whether professional or self-shot.

Using third-party content on YouTube just got a great deal more risky for channels once protected by the MCN system and the change has been both sudden and unwelcome for YouTubers.

Bottom Line

If you’re a YouTuber affected by this, the best suggestion that YouTube has made is to upload videos early and keep them as “unlisted” so that, if there’s a delay in monetization, it can go live on time.

But while that might work for some videos, with a lot of YouTube content, immediacy is important and any delay, even a few hours, means a choice between holding a video back until it’s too late or publishing it and being unable to monetize most of its traffic.

This is clearly a problem that YouTube needs to address. As I said before, it’s system has let down both copyright holders and YouTube users alike, failing to prevent the complete removal of infringing content and constantly frustrating legitimate users with questionable Content ID claims and monetization delays.

YouTube’s shift in this area isn’t likely to improve the copyright situation for anyone. MCN channels were not hotbeds for piracy and infringement (and there was clear recourse if they were). The bigger issue I see is with anonymous channels that spring up, publish large amounts of infringing material and disappear, often with much of the content still intact after they leave.

Why these changes are being made is YouTube’s guess but it seems likely that some of it is spearheaded by the recent lawsuit filed by the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) against Fullscreen, one of YouTube’s better-known MCNs (though one for general content, not just gaming), which came at the same time as a agreement with Maker Studios, another large MCN.

While it’s understandable why YouTube would be wary of the lawsuit, it actually shows that the MCN system is working. The NMPA not only had a way to easily address the alleged infringement, but it also was able to reach a satisfactory deal with another key MCN. That’s exactly how MCNs are supposed to work, as direct middle man between copyright holders and YouTube channel owners

For affiliates though, YouTube is now a second middle man and that is only going to complicate things more. Whether MCN affiliates choose to keep both middle men around remains to be seen.

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