YouTube's Content ID and a case of mistaken identity

17 Aug 2018

With hundreds of videos being uploaded onto YouTube each day, screening for copyright infringement seems like mission impossible.  From accidental background music to aspiring guitar heroes playing other artists’ riffs or new bands uploading ‘their’ material which, on closer inspection, turns out to be based on someone else’s work – numerous scenarios can give rise to copyright infringement.

In response to the issue and to support copyright owners, YouTube operates an automated Content ID system that scans videos for potential copying. The system identifies videos for content that has already been uploaded on a previous occasion by a different user, blocks those videos and stops their users from receiving any profits from them.

The system is clearly not flawless, as YouTuber Paul Davids realised when he received a copyright notice for plagiarising his very own music recently.

Paul Davids is a Dutch guitarist and YouTube user with over 625k subscribers. He regularly creates videos in which he plays and teaches famous guitar riffs. Popular amongst YouTube viewers, his hit video “25 guitar riffs” earned him 7.9m views. Whilst he often plays other artists’ music, he is used to receiving the occasional copyright notice from YouTube. In this instance however, he received a notice referring to a song he wrote himself!

In a recent interview with the BBC, Davids explained that: “Someone took my track, added vocals and guitar to make their own track, and uploaded it to YouTube, but I got the copyright infringement notice!”  Due to YouTube’s Content ID system wrongly categorising his video as copied material, Davids was not only accused of copying his own song, but the proceeds from his video were also mistakenly transferred to the copycat YouTube user. Luckily for Davids, the incident had a happy ending; he contacted the copycat and managed to resolve the issue amicably.

This isn’t the first time YouTube’s Content ID system has created an issue.  In a notorious incident in 2010, Justin Bieber – who started his professional life as an internet pop sensation - was in dispute with YouTube after they refused to allow him to upload his new song to his personal You Tube site - because his own record label had uploaded it first. Luckily the problem was addressed and resolved through another social channel – Twitter.

Automated systems cannot always avoid copyright infringement and disputes may arise in connection with uploaded material and their proceeds.  If you need any advice in relation to copyright – online or offline - please contact Rob Ganpatsingh or any member of our highly regarded intellectual property team.

Article written by Beatrice Bass.

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