YouTube takes copyright law into their own hands with new policy on music infringement

From mid-September YouTube will implement its new policy on how copyright holders can deal with infringements of their music on the platform. The changes effect the way copyright is enforced on YouTube, and it begs the questions; are they making their own copyright rules? And, if they are, and they are, how do we feel about that?

As readers will know, an infringement of copyright in a song on YouTube would happen if someone uses it in their video without a licence or permission of the rights holder, unless they are benefitting from a copyright exception [although the technology cannot recognise the purpose of the use and so on YouTube copyright exceptions can only realistically be utilised by users who are knowledgeable enough to submit a counter notification or dispute a Content ID claim]. YouTube currently provides rightsholders with tools to help enforce their copyright on the platform which allows the rightsholder to mute, remove, monetise or leave the uploaded video.

However, YouTube have stated that they noticed a trend of aggressive manual claiming of very short music clips used in monetized videos. They say that this feels particularly unfair, as the claim transfers all the revenue from the creator to the claimant, regardless of the amount of music claimed. As a result, YouTube announced that they are changing their manual claiming policies “to improve fairness in the creator ecosystem, while still respecting copyright owners’ rights to prevent unlicensed use of their content.”

A copyright holder can make a claim on any video that uses their content without permission — regardless of how short the clip is – that enables them to either block the video or prevent the uploader from monetising the video. The Manual Claiming Tool enables copyright holders to receive all the revenue from a video that includes their content.

However, under the new policy, copyright owners will no longer be able to use the YouTube Manual Claiming Tool to monetise from creator videos that use “very short or unintentional uses of music”. This change only applies to claims made with the Manual Claiming tool, where the rightsholder actively reviews the videos, and not claims made through Content ID match system.

Cute but controlling.
Image: Paul Appleton
Without the option to monetise from the uploaders video, YouTube suggest that copyright owners might like to leave “very short or unintentional uses unclaimed”. Since the new policy was triggered by a trend of aggressive manual claiming, this seems unlikely! Most likely, copyright owners can simply choose to prevent monetisation of the video by the uploader or block the video altogether.

YouTube acknowledged that the changes might result in more blocked content in the short-term, but that they feel this is an important step toward striking the right balance over the long-term.

The change in policy could be considered a positive step towards balancing the rights of the copyright holders and the users, but will no doubt be unwelcomed by copyright holders because they are losing a revenue option.

In their statement, YouTube mention several times how they feel and what they feel is fair and unfair. It might seem that YouTube's feelings are representative of the movement towards platform control and enforcement of copyright rules. The risk of this is that these rules don’t necessarily correspond with the law. For example, what does YouTube deem to be “very short” or “unintentional”?

Under UK law there is a copyright exception for incidental inclusion in any event. But using a very short clip could still constitute an infringement. The difficulty is, it seems, that YouTube can only have an all or nothing monetising rule. This doesn’t reflect what would happen in a legal dispute, where the copyright holder would receive a percentage of the revenue. 

Whilst this Kat doesn't necessarily disagree with the approach taken by YouTube, she does feel slightly uncomfortable about the reality of their ability to create their own copyright rules. 
YouTube takes copyright law into their own hands with new policy on music infringement YouTube takes copyright law into their own hands with new policy on music infringement Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Monday, September 02, 2019 Rating: 5


  1. in america, like in all big tech nowadays, everything is about feelings. you just need to read the news to see that. its not about law or logic anymore, if you hurt the americans' feelings, you are in the wrong.

  2. I'm not sure how this is creating its own copyright rules; it might even be considered the opposite.

    If it's true that small matches will no longer allow to switch profits to the complainer, this removes the financial incentive for mass reporting, except when the target video is actually competing with a video by the complainer on YouTube.

    If complainers choose to harm the target nonetheless, by getting their videos blocked or unprofitable, the result is that those videos will need to be posted elsewhere and the two will need to sort out their problems in court or somewhere else. So this might end up being more like "YouTube forces rightsholders to sort out themselves their differences on revenue sharing" rather than "YouTube creates its own copyright exceptions".

  3. Hmm I wonder just how short the segment has to be? About a year ago I uploaded a video segment of my daughter's school dance recital on "my" YouTube channel, requiring a password, intended for sharing amongst friends and family only- sure enough it was muted due to copyright issue- it was fine for me, even if it did look silly a bunch of 3 years dancing to nothing for 23 seconds...I tend to agree with Federico- this change is not about creating own copyright rules but rather a step towards forcing claimants to sorting out the issue in Court?

  4. Well, the point about YouTube making their own rules is really more of a general one - they can decide what the reality of copyright infringement and enforcement looks like. I actually think the new policy is a good one, it only stops rightsholders taking all the money from videos that use incidental or short clips using the manual tool (not Content ID) and they can still remove the video if they want to enforce copyright. There is a danger of more blocking, and therefore more of a threat to freedom of speech, because incidental inclusion is not copyright infringement - at least in the UK. With regards to the short clips, maybe the policy is right and it is the law that should change!

  5. this might end up being more like "YouTube forces rightsholders to sort out themselves


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