A wave of concern spread across the YouTube community earlier this week when it was announced YouTube will be changing its Content ID policies. These concerns grew on December 9, when thousands of creators found their videos flagged by YouTube’s Content ID system.

In light of all the questions I was getting from YouTubers of all kinds, I thought I’d summarize what’s happening, what it means for YouTubers, and what to do if you find yourself on the wrong side of Content ID. So…

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1: Why is this happening?

There are two main causes for everything that’s happening this week.

  1. The failure of certain major MCNs to properly clear content they manage. *cough*Fullscreen & Maker Studios*cough*
  2. The failure of certain MCNs to offer a service above and beyond that already provided by YouTube.

These two issues came to a head this summer, prompting YouTube to change the way Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) use their platform – Making them more accountable for the content they manage. To do this, MCNs are now forced to designate each creator they represent as either a “Managed” or an “Affiliate” partner. This is the first in a series of changes due to take place over the next year.

2: What does this mean for me?

If you are a YouTube Partner who hasn’t signed to any MCN, these changes do not affect you. It’s business as usual for us :).

Managed Partners get to keep all the current benefits of being signed to an MCN; instant monetization, exclusion from (most) Content ID scans, and other network-specific perks. However, each MCN is now directly responsible for their managed partners. This means that if a large number of the Managed partners infringe on copyright or YouTube’s terms of service, their MCN may face serious penalties such as fines, restrictions, or potentially being kicked off YouTube entirely. Managed partners can expect to have a much more collaborative partnership with your MCN, if they don’t already.

If you’re an Affiliate Partner* it’s not good news. It means your networks have given you the proverbial middle finger and said ‘we don’t care about you / we don’t want to be responsible for you.’ As of December 9, your videos are no longer excluded from Content ID scanning, which is what caused thousands of videos to be flagged over the past few days as the system catches up on these old videos. This also means your videos are no longer instantly monetized, and may be subject to an additional monetization review depending on the type of content you create. This review can take anything from a few minutes to a few days, and may require you to submit evidence that you have the right to use certain kinds of third party content in your videos. Basically, you will be treated like any other YouTuber Partner, and get no special treatment just because you are part of an MCN.

If your videos include a lot of third-party content, such as movie reviews, covers, remixes, or “Let’s Play” videos, having to deal with monetization reviews and Content ID issues will become an annoying but unfortunately necessary part of monetizing your YouTube experience.

* If you don’t know whether you’re a managed or an affiliate partner by now, that’s a serious fail by your MCN. Consider whether your network is really offering you anything more than what YouTube offers its regular partners. If not, you should probably leave that network…

3: I have Content ID matches – What do I do?

Update: I have a long explanation about what to do in this case, but Strategy Force Gaming explains what to do in much better detail than I ever could:

4: How do I avoid Content ID matches in the future?

As long as you are using third-party content in your videos, Content ID matches will be largely (but not completely…) unavoidable. While the video above details some of the more illicit ways of avoiding Content ID, here are some tips on how to minimize the number of Content ID claims you’ll have to deal with, and make future claims a bit easier:

1: Always plan your content:

If possible, plan out every element of your video before you make it. If you know you will be using music, movie clips, or gameplay from a certain publisher, get in contact with them and ask about their policies. If they like you, they may even give you a license to use their content for free (or even whitelist your channel in their CMS, meaning you won’t get any more Content ID matches from them), which will save you a lot of headache. Even if they don’t offer explicit permission to use their content, remember that if your use of their content in your video, and your video falls under fair use, they cannot forbid you from using their material in your video.

2: Always review your content:

Most people review their videos after editing, watching it all the way through looking for mistakes, errors, bad audio etc… Now, you should also look for third-party content that may have creeped into your videos by accident. If you used third party content under fair use, it can be helpful to keep a list of publishers and any known policies they have regarding online video.

3: Contact the publisher before disputing a Content ID match:

Assuming your content falls under fair use or you have a license/permission, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by making a personal contact on the ‘other side.’ Explain the situation, explain what you do, give them your audience numbers. If it’s impressive, and if you’re polite and persuasive they might even release the claim from their side without you having to do anything. This is especially important in gaming, where publishers are starting to realize just how powerful ‘Let’s Play’ style videos are as a promotional tool.

As more people get in touch with game publishers, they will start to release more public copyright statements, like Rockstar Games did for GTA5, stating their official position on gameplay videos. This should make it a bit easier to find out which publishers are more ‘creator-friendly’ than others.

I personally post a lot of licensed music content to YouTube, so pretty much every video I upload gets a Content ID match. After contacting the publisher, the claim is usually released within hours. However, there was one situation where the company claiming the video in Content ID wasn’t actually the copyright holder. I let the rightful publisher know, and as a thanks they gave me a 10-year license to use that piece of music (which would usually cost around $5,000) for free. As I said, nothing to lose, everything to gain… You would be surprised how often the publisher has no idea someone else is claiming their content.

4: Stay up-to-date on the latest developments in Fair Use:

U.S. fair use laws were written long before anything like YouTube existed, and interpretations of how fair use relates to online video are very fluid. There is very little precedent set in favor of either the publishers or the content creators as doing so would be both risky and incredibly expensive. This is why I was surprised GoldieBlox asked a judge to rule that their advertisement (which used music from the Beastie Boys) was fair use. I fully expect them to lose the suit, and have to pay damages to the Beastie Boys, but they’re getting a lot of free advertising from the case – So even if they lose, ultimately they win. The same cannot be said for the average YouTuber…

It’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in this space. Every lawsuit, such as the GoldieBlox/Beastie Boys case changes the landscape for everyone. Don’t get caught out.

5: Don’t be afraid to join forces with other YouTubers in a similar situation:

I know for a fact that a lot of malicious publishers out there try to use copyright takedowns and Content ID to chilling effect. Assuming you have a license or you content falls under fair use, do not be afraid to pool your resources with others in a similar situation, leverage your MCNs (that’s what they’re there for, after all…), call them on their bluff, and take them to court to assert your rights under fair use as content creators**. If they’re smart, they’ll back off long before it gets to that point.

**Always consult a lawyer…

6: Don’t forget why you’re doing this:

Whether it’s a hobby or your main source of income, it will always be a labor of love for almost everyone that uses YouTube. Yes, it can be incredibly frustrating to lose monetization on a video, temporarily or otherwise, but don’t forget why you made the video in the first place. Don’t forget why you started making videos.

Every time you have to deal with Content ID or a copyright takedown, try to use it as an opportunity to learn about licensing, copyright law, and the issues surrounding them. Every YouTuber is already a talent manager, on-screen personality, video editor, video encoding specialist, social media manager, and SEO expert all rolled into one. Why not throw ‘licensing agent’ into the mix as well. We pay our licensing agent a lot of money, so who knows… If YouTube doesn’t work out for you, maybe the knowledge you gain from dealing with these issues could act as a stepping stone to a lucrative career…

Final Thoughts

Even though it may not sound like it from this piece, I’m actually in favor of Content ID. Realistically, it’s the only way to police copyright infringement on YouTube, where over 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. The internet is no longer the Wild West of copyright, and we do not own the platform – Google does. Ultimately, if they do not properly police copyright infringement on their platform, under Copyright law, they could lose what is known as safe harbor protection – Meaning they would be personally liable for every incident of copyright infringement on their platform. If that were to happen, do you really think Google would keep YouTube online? – A lot of the people making angry rant videos about these changes don’t seem to understand that it can’t work any other way. Don’t forget, this is why Content ID was created in the first place!

However, there are things YouTube should really improve – Such as the 30-day time limit copyright holders have to review disputed Content ID claims, which is far too long! But overall, Content ID is the only way to make sure YouTube stays online. YouTube is a great platform that provides its services for free! – Actually, it’s not just free, THEY’RE actually paying YOU to use their service. More opportunities will come up for creators to voice their opinions on how copyright is handled on YouTube, and it’s important that you understand the nuance of the issue and approach such opportunities from a base of factual understanding rather than irrational emotions. If you can’t do that, then there’s literally nothing stopping you from building your own platform – These days, it’s really not that hard to do. Otherwise, stop b*tching, roll with the punches, and get back to making videos.