5 Things to Know About YouTube’s Copyright Changes

The Key Takeaways from the Announcement...

On Thursday, YouTube announced some additional changes to its Content ID policies aimed at improving “fairness in their creator ecosystem while still respecting copyright owners’ rights to prevent unlicensed use of their content.”

The change itself is actually fairly subtle. When rightsholders are manually claiming very short clip of audio, usually identified as less than 10 seconds, they will no longer have the ability to monetize that video themselves. Though they will still have the ability to block the video or block all monetization of it, rightsholders will not be able to earn revenue off of it.

In July, the company implemented new requirements on rightsholders that they had to provide time stamps with manual claims. These latest changes are an extension of those, allowing them to treat such short audio claims differently from longer claims.

This is in direct response to what many YouTubers have been saying is a growing problem of rightsholders claiming all of the revenue a video generates on the basis of a very short copyright claim.

However, the policy itself has seen something a mixed response. Though most applaud the attempt to address this particular issue, many warn it may result in more blocked content, something YouTube itself has cautioned.

Either way, while the change is an important one and something that every YouTuber should be aware of, there are a lot of important caveats to this shift. To that end, here are five things that you need to be aware of with this new policy.

1: It’s Extremely Limited in What it Covers

The new policy only looks at manual claims of audio content that are of a very short length. Though YouTube hasn’t publicly defined that length, it’s said that’s “single digit” seconds.

While these kinds of manual claims have been a growing problem for many YouTubers, the policy change is equally conspicuous by what it omits. For example, the new policy does not include:

  • Automated claims detected by Content ID itself
  • Video claims
  • DMCA takedowns / copyright strikes
  • Audio Claims over 10 seconds (regardless of video length)
  • Any other content matches

A good example is the dancing baby video that was at the heart of the Lenz. v. Universal Music Corp lawsuit. That video featured 20 seconds of the Prince song Let’s Go Crazy in the background and was the subject of a DMCA takedown for it.

That video would not qualify for this policy. It was a DMCA notice, not a manual Content ID claim. But even if it had been a manual Content ID claim, it was far too long and Universal would have been allowed to claim the revenue from it.

In short, this move is targeted at a very narrow subset of claims, but it is a subset that can seem especially unfair and, according to both YouTube and YouTubers, has been a growing issue.

2: It’s Extremely Limited in the Protection it Provides

To be clear, the new policy change doesn’t prevent manual Content ID claims on short audio matches. Instead, it just prevents rightsholders from claiming the revenue from the video for themselves.

Rightsholders can still:

  • Prevent the original uploader from monetizing the video.
  • Order the video blocked
  • Order the video blocked geographically

YouTubers can still remove the audio from those sections and have the claim automatically released (similar to how they handle automated Content ID claims), but that was part of the July policy change.

Still, rightsholders can (and likely will) use their powers to block videos. YouTube is hoping that, without a financial incentive, rightsholders won’t seek out these kinds of uses but only time will tell if that’s how rightsholders respond.

3: The Policy Takes Effect Mid-September

The change is not immediate and is due to begin in “Mid-September.” However, if this change follows other YouTube policy shifts, it will likely be rolled out over time meaning that these types of claims will likely continue for the next month or longer.

Also, there’s no indication that the claims are retroactive. The change only applies to future Content ID claims. This means if you have a video that is subject to one of these claims already, it’s not likely to be lifted when this policy takes effect.

Over the next month, YouTube will be doing a lot of work with their Content ID partners to implement this policy change. During that time, we may hear about other changes and shifts to the policy and may get more details about exactly what kinds of claims it will cover.

4: It’s Part of a Bigger Balancing Act

As we talked about following the July changes, YouTube is stuck in a perpetual balancing act with its various copyright systems. YouTube wants and needs to keep rightsholders inside the Content ID system but, if the system is too frustrating for end users, it could open the door for defections.

Basically, YouTube needs to keep appeasing rightsholders. Not only would them leaving Content ID create more work for YouTube (and likely even more chaos for YouTubers) as Content ID claims turn into DMCA notices, but it might mean the end of the deals that allow for YouTube Music and movie sales/rentals on the site.

YouTube clearly has an eye on making changes to Content ID but it’s making the changes very slowly and in small steps. Change is going to be very gradual and done in collaboration with rightsholders, not in spite of them.

While the changes over the past few months are a clear indication that YouTube is trying to address many of the frustrations users have, just keep in mind it will be a very slow crawl.

5: This Could All Change in a Few Years

As we discussed back in March, the new EU Copyright Directive is likely to bring some significant changes to YouTube and the way it deals with content matching. Rightsholders will have more leverage with YouTube and content filtering won’t just be for those that YouTube lets into Content ID.

What this means longer term remains to be seen as no one knows the details of how the law will be applied. There are a lot of details that are unknown until more countries implement the new laws and they take effect.

The important thing to remember is that both the legal and practical environment YouTube is operating in is about to change in a fairly big way. Progress that YouTube makes today could be rolled back or altered in the future. There’s just no way to know.

This is likely one of the reasons YouTube is working as closely as it is with rightsholders and why they don’t wish to move too quickly. But we really don’t know what these changes will bring and we likely want for at least a few years.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, the change is a small one and it’s targeted at a very, very small set of copyright claims: Manual claims, audio only, less than 10 seconds long. Even then, it doesn’t prohibit rightsholders from claiming those videos, just from monetizing those claims. They can still block or demonetize such videos at any time.

Despite the narrow focus, it’s aimed at a use of the Content ID system that YouTubers find exceptionally annoying and egregious. It’s a tool that let rightsholders claim all of the revenue from a video just for a few seconds of audio, even if that audio was only accidentally included.

YouTube laid the groundwork for this change back in July with updates to the manual claims process and it is doubtless many YouTubers will celebrate these changes, even if it does mean more videos may be blocked. Simply put, discouraging these kinds of claims may well be worth it for users.

That said, it’s important to remember where this fits in with the larger YouTube picture, in particular its relationship with rightsholders and the changes coming thanks to the EU regulations.

In short, this is not a story that’s over, but one that’s just beginning. YouTubers would be well advised to keep their heads up for additional changes. Tomorrow’s winds may bring something very different.

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