Anyone who has ever encountered a YouTube video takedown notice is familiar with ContentID, the wide-sweeping and often controversial system through which rights holders can flag videos that infringe upon their copyrights. ContentID was first launched in 2007, and in the seven years since then, it has paid off in a big way. According to a report in the Financial Times, ContentID has now paid out more than $1 billion to the companies that use it.

Through ContentID, rights holders can flag videos that illegally use unlicensed footage or music. At that point, ContentID gives its users the choice to either request a takedown of the infringing video or monetize it to claim any ad revenue it accrues. As FT’s article explains, most rights holders choose the latter option, turning fan-uploaded videos into alternative revenue streams. “The vast majority choose to monetise and track rather than block the videos,” said Fred von Lohmann, Google’s legal director for copyright.

This system has proven quite popular. More than 5,000 companies now track videos on ContentID, including most major TV networks, film studios, sports leagues, and record labels. The billion-dollar figure will only grow higher; the deluge of YouTube videos uploaded every minute includes many  unlicensed reposts of copyrighted material.

ContentID has generally become an accepted part of the YouTube ecosystem, but it is not without critics. Last year, a change in YouTube’s ContentID policy caused thousands of videos to get flagged, with little justification provided for many of the claims. The most recent ContentID kerfuffle concerns Microsoft, which has apparently flagged a number of videos that don’t even contain any licensed material.

These controversies have brought ContentID’s flaws to the fore and raised questions about what should be considered “fair use.” The bottom line, though, is that ContentID doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, so brands and creators should brush up on their copyright law.

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