YouTube and the music industry are frenemies of the first order, a mutually dependent couple that can’t stop bickering in public. The major record labels are currently renegotiating their contracts with the world’s largest online video platform, and so the war of words has been heating up of late. Today, Google added a fresh data point to the back and forth, announcing in a new report on piracy that its Content ID system has paid out $2 billion to copyright holders, double what it announced back in 2014.
Content ID is actually at the heart of the music industry’s current beef with YouTube. The system asks copyright holders to upload a file, say a music video, and then tries to automatically detect any copies of that work which are uploaded by other users. The copyright owner can ask the system to automatically report, block, or monetize videos when it detects a copy, and YouTube has argued that the music labels almost always choose the last of those options.
The music industry claims Content ID just doesn’t pay out enough
The music industry’s rebuttal has asserted that this system doesn’t work well, and is costly. In a filing to the US Copyright Office as part of a review of the DMCA, Universal Music Group raised questions about the efficiency of YouTube’s Content ID system. In a footnote, it noted that "[Universal Music Publishing Group] estimates that Content ID fails to identify upwards of 40 percent of the use of UMPG’s compositions on YouTube." And it says it spends millions on human labor, hiring people to scour YouTube and file takedown notices, because pirated content is uploaded again as quickly as it is removed.
Google’s new report takes aim at this claim. It asserts that Content ID is a highly effective solution, with over 98 percent of copyright management on YouTube happening through Content ID, and just 2 percent coming from humans filing copyright removal notices. Google also says the music industry opts to monetize more than 95 percent of its copyright claims, meaning they leave the videos up on the service. It claims a whopping half of the music industry's YouTube revenue comes from fan content — covers, remixes, dance versions, etc. — claimed via Content ID.
The report also puts a hard figure on how much Google has spent so far on Content ID: $60 million. The message is clear. While music labels have so far issued vague estimates about the level of piracy and cost to them, Google has repeatedly published hard data that shows a positive trend. The onus is now on the music industry to publish some detailed facts and figures of its own.