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Recent report uncovers YouTube’s absurd volume of copyright claims

Youtube’s recent Copyright Transparency report reveals the superfolous copyright infringement cases it has had in the last year.

A guest post by Timothy Geigner of TechDirt.

Any cursory look at Techdirt for stories involving YouTube and copyright issues will give you a very accurate impression of the state of all things copyright for the platform: it’s a complete shitshow. You will see all kinds of craziness in those posts: white noise getting hit with a copyright claim, labels claiming copyright on songs in the public domain, and all kinds of issues with automated systems like ContentID causing chaos. That really is a sample platter rather than the whole meal, but it’s also worth noting that YouTube knows this is a problem.

To that point, the platform recently put out its first “Copyright Transparency Report” that teases out all kinds of numbers for copyright claims on YouTube videos. As with any statistical report, how you view it is going to come down to how you want to slice and dice the numbers. For instance, it’s worth noting that over 99% of the copyright claims YouTube receives comes from ContentID, an automated system. More to the point of this particular post, you will likely also witness copyright enforcement advocates focus on numbers like this from YouTube’s own report.

As the report notes, we see low levels of disputes relative to total claims, particularly within tools that use automatic detection. In the first half of 2021, fewer than 1% of all Content ID claims were disputed.

Sounds great, right? Even with some couched language, this looks for all the world like even YouTube is acknowledging that a tiny fraction of the copyright claims are disputed and is therefore a system that is working well. You might even decide to assume that this translates to 99% of copyright claims made at YouTube are accurate and valid.

Except that that is absurd. Vast numbers of people either lack the time, interest, or bravery to dispute a copyright claim like this. Many others may not even realize it’s something for which there is a process to take action on such disputes.

And besides all of that, when you dig into the actual raw numbers rather than percentages, it becomes very clear that YouTube does indeed have a copyright enforcement problem.

Over 2.2 million YouTube videos were hit with copyright claims that were later overturned between January and June of this year, according to a new report published by the company today. The Copyright Transparency Report is the first of its kind published by YouTube, which says it will update biannually going forward.

2.2 million claims were overturned in favor of the uploader in a six month period. Let that wash over you for a second and then realize that, while this represents a tiny percentage of the overall claims, it’s still a huge number. And when you factor into all of this both that there is zero chance that the actual numbers of invalid copyright claims aren’t much higher and the fact that YouTube creators have long complained that this is a massive problem from a process standpoint, well, it again becomes obvious that YouTube has a copyright enforcement problem.

Though mistaken copyright claims are a drop in the bucket on a larger scale, YouTube creators have long complained about how the platform handles claims, saying overly aggressive or unjustified enforcement can lead to lost income. Copyright claims can result in videos being blocked, audio being muted, or ad revenue going back to the rights owner. This new report gives shape to a problem that YouTube itself has acknowledged needs updating.

In 2019, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in a blog post that the company heard the concerns from creators and that YouTube was “exploring improvements in striking the right balance between copyright owners and creators.”

We most certainly haven’t reached that balancing point yet. I anticipate that YouTube is releasing this transparency report as part of a broader and longer term plan to alleviate the problems this is all causing. If not, then all YouTube appears to be doing is telling on itself with this report, which is not the kind of corporate action I would expect.

Meanwhile, thanks to overly restrictive copyright enforcement, YouTube’s valuable creator base is left waiting for help.

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