Why YouTube’s Erase Song Feature Could Be a Game Changer

Over the holiday weekend, YouTube CEO Neal Mohan took to X (formerly Twitter) to announce a major update to its “Erase Song” feature, which YouTube had been testing for some time.

According to the post and the video embedded below, the new feature aims to make it easy for uploaders to erase a copyright-claimed song in their video while leaving other audio intact.

According to the announcement, YouTube has been testing the feature for some time. However, the tool never performed to expectations. Now, YouTube says it has improved the tool with AI features that can better recognize and remove the music.

However, YouTube admits that the tool will not always work. This is especially true when the audio quality or overlaps make removing it difficult. In those cases, users may resort to other tools such as trim and mute.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a major overhaul. It’s a minor upgrade to a long-tested feature. However, when viewed in the context of YouTube’s overall copyright situation, it could represent a significant shift in the current landscape.

What Erase Song Does

YouTube Erase Song Demo

YouTube uses a system known as ContentID to detect when copyright-protected content is included in user videos. ContentID matches audio and video content, though this tool only works with audio claims.

If your video becomes the subject of an audio ContentID claim, what happens next depends on the copyright holder. They can track the use of the audio, monetize it for themselves (removing your monetization), or have the video taken down.

Uploaders wanting to resolve these issues didn’t have many great options. They could trim out or remove the portion of the video containing the song, mute the segment or replace the audio with YouTube-provided music.

However, all three tools were and are blunt instruments. They erase and remove all audio in the segment, including non-infringing content. So, the dialog gets overwritten if an audio track is used in the background.

This has been a significant frustration for YouTubers, who have faced copyright claims but have had little way to address them short of re-editing and re-uploading the video. However, that has its issues, particularly when the original video has many views.

In short, there are no good options, which has been a significant headache for both YouTubers and YouTube itself.

Why It Matters

For most of its existence, YouTube has been in a delicate balance between advertisers, large copyright holders, users and original creators. Appeasing all four groups has been incredibly difficult.

For example, in recent weeks, YouTube has been combatting the use of ad blockers on its site. While this move likely appeases advertisers (and YouTube’s bottom line), it creates anger among many users. Those users are pushing back and seeking more aggressive ad-blocking solutions.

However, its relationship with large copyright holders is the only one based on a legal obligation. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), such rightsholders can demand the removal of any allegedly infringing material. However, those industry leaders make much of the site’s most popular content. Removing it would be labor-intensive and a disaster from a content standpoint.

So, YouTube created the ContentID system. That system handles roughly 99% of all copyright disputes on the site and allows creators to monetize their content rather than remove it. The goal, ultimately, is to encourage creators to keep content on the site, allowing it to be used in user videos.

However, this has been a problem for YouTubers. Many videos get copyright claimed for relatively small portions of the content without a good way to address it. YouTube’s current tools are blunt instruments.

With that in mind, Erase Song represents a shift in the balance between larger copyright holders and individual YouTubers. However, this also weakens the threat music companies have over YouTube.

Previously, without a license, they could have used the DMCA to order the removal (or muting) of a large number of videos. With this tool, more videos would survive a strike, improving YouTube’s negotiating position.

This, in turn, takes some leverage away from major copyright holders, particularly music companies. This could become important when it’s time to renegotiate agreements.

Bottom Line

On the surface, the Erase Song feature is about giving YouTubers a much-needed feature. It’s a way to deal with a copyright claim without removing the video or muting a portion of it. Deeper down, it’s about YouTube trying to maintain its delicate balance between all parties.

However, on the deepest level, it’s a feature that reduces copyright holder leverage on YouTube itself. It reduces the theoretical impact of DMCA notices, giving music companies less leverage when updating their agreements.

That relationship is still very tenuous. On one hand, Google discusses paying over $6 billion to the music industry in one year. On the other hand, it has some of the lowest per-stream rates of any streaming platform.

YouTube and the music companies need each other, but their relationship is still adversarial. While the primary goal of this new tool is most likely to improve uploaders’ lives, it can’t hurt that it also reduces the music companies’ leverage.

While a “nuclear war” between the two sides would still be very bad for everyone, YouTube has to know that this gives them a slightly better position should it come to pass.

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