TJ Leonard
TJ Leonard is the CEO of Storyblocks.

In early July, YouTube announced some changes to its policy regarding manual copyright claims. To reduce the headaches that YouTube creators experience when addressing claims, YouTube now requires that anyone submitting a manual copyright claim must identify the exact place in the video where the copyrighted content appears. The company also provides some tools for creators to edit out or replace that content quickly, should they not wish to dispute the claim.

Before this update, there was a good deal of guesswork that went into addressing manual claims. Creators had to scan their video to locate the content in question and sometimes wouldn’t be sure what piece of content was being claimed. So, in theory, this policy update puts more responsibility on the claimant and makes the process more fair to the creator.

It is a good step, but YouTube is effectively fixing the most absurd policy on the internet — that anyone can place a claim, and they won’t direct you to the piece of the offending content. They now at least provide a map. But it doesn’t do much to address the issue of bogus claims. And that seems to be the recurring frustration from creators. I’ll circle back to that, but let’s touch on what creators can do to prevent these claims from happening in the first place.

Preventing Copyright Claims

When creating videos for commercial purposes — i.e., when you are monetizing your channel — make sure you are correctly licensing any footage, music, or imagery incorporated. It may be obvious to most, but it’s worth reiterating that you can’t download a song from iTunes and use it as the soundtrack to your video. You do not hold the rights to use that piece of music. With visual content, pay attention to details such as whether the content you are using is model-released or if the license specifies it is for editorial use only. You even want to notice your surroundings when recording. If there is a popular song playing in the background of your video, that will likely be a claim. There are, of course, instances when you can use copyrighted content as fair use, like as a parody. Know the guidelines here to make sure fair use applies to your work.

Can YouTube Do More?

So if you’re a creator and are following all of the rules, you shouldn’t have to deal with copyright claims, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the experience many YouTube creators have had. Both automated and manual copyright claims regularly ignore cases of fair use — and sometimes are even filed against properly licensed content. That is the real headache.

Content ID claims, which are automated claims, are a significant issue for creators utilizing music. This is because music that is available to be purchased and appropriately licensed is often subject to claims. Any copyright-holder can register their content with Content ID, either directly or through a third-party partner. They do this as a way to protect their content (content they are typically selling to license) from illegal use. This includes not only the artists themselves, but also any organization they have given necessary rights to. Artists aren’t always aware that they are giving the third party the right to file claims on their content. Some have decided to register their content with third parties because it was getting claims from an unknown source — they join to regain control over their content.

A majority of music claims are automated and are made by a third party on behalf of the artist. The claimants typically take anywhere from 10% to 25% of the ad revenue from successful claims. For the most part, claimants take care of most of the work, so artists don’t necessarily see how creators struggle with this. It’s a tangled system, and YouTube is in a unique position to set better standards. They are big enough to hold some influence.

Additionally, based on commentary coming directly from creators, some have even had claims made against their original music. The decision to drop a copyright claim is in the hands of the claimant, making it seriously difficult to challenge a false claim successfully.

Creators don’t feel like they hold power to go up against studios and music labels to dispute incorrect claims because they often lose. They don’t want to face demonetization or the dreaded takedown. Going through YouTube’s dispute system, it can take up to 30 days for a claim to be cleared. Even then, the claimant can still reject the dispute, forcing the creator to either give up or appeal. And if the creator appeals a rejected dispute more than once for the same video, that can potentially lead to a copyright strike, putting a channel at risk of being shut down. The process can be pretty harmful to YouTube Partner channels, since the first 48 hours after a video goes live are typically where most of their earnings come from.

YouTube is not helping to resolve this, and the manual claim policy update sort of misses the point. It only makes it possible, not even easier, to respond to claims. It’s like treating a fever with Tylenol and expecting it to eradicate the illness. Understandably, there will always be a high degree of automation involved in copyright infringement monitoring. But YouTube could do more by increasing the level of human insight and interpretation in the process. It would be a big step toward addressing the pain felt by their creators and giving them more freedom to work within their rights.