YouTube Updates its Content ID Dispute Process, but is it Enough?

On October 3, 2012, YouTube announced a change in its content ID dispute process, as updated on its blog. What does this update really mean and why does it matter? A short story might help clarify the situation.

Last spring, long before I enrolled to take Copyright, I received a panicked phone call from my mother, who had in turn received an e-mail from YouTube notifying her that she had violated the copyright policy of the website.  Turns out that my mom uploaded a video of my dogs dancing and playing to some music on the radio. The video had approximately three viewers (myself included), yet somehow, someone, somewhere claimed that the music playing on the radio in the background was copyright protected and that my mother was infringing on that right.  Who was policing the matter? What could my mom do in response? Was she really in trouble? I had no idea what the answers to any of these questions were, and needless to say, neither did my mom. So the video went away.

This semester, I am taking Copyright and when the topic came up in class I was eager to tell my mom’s story and find out what on earth was going on. It just so happens that the day I decided to ask about my mom’s unfortunate YouTube experience in class was the same day YouTube reformed its content ID dispute process. As it turns out, YouTube’s content ID dispute process had been causing problems for quite some time, prompting many users to call for a change in YouTube’s policy.

The old process worked as follows: a user posted a video, a copyright owner filed a claim, the user could then dispute the claim, but it went immediately back to the party claiming copyright infringement. The party claiming copyright can then either reinstate the claim, or release it. If the copyright claimant did not release the claim then the user had no further recourse. This process resulted in numerous false copyright claims, clearly abusing the system and harming users. Some recent examples include YouTube taking down the Democratic National Convention live stream in September and blocking the NASA recording of the Mars landing in August because of improper copyright claims.

So what did YouTube change on October 3rd? YouTube’s blog states, “Content owners have uploaded more than ten million reference files to the Content ID system. At that scale, mistakes can and do happen. To address this, we’ve improved the algorithms that identify potentially invalid claims. We stop these claims from automatically affecting user videos and place them in a queue to be manually reviewed. This process prevents disputes that arise when content not owned by a partner inadvertently turns up in a reference file.” Further, YouTube introduced a new appeals process, which now gives users a new choice when handling a dispute. Now, when a user appeals, the content owner can either release the claim or file a formal DMCA copyright notification. This is significant because there are actual legal consequences for filing false DMCA takedown requests.

There appears to be significant support for YouTube’s policy change, but there is still some skepticism. Timothy Lee from Ars Technica states that the change is “clearly an improvement,” but “still leave[s] a lot to be desired.” Patrick McKay from told Ars Technica that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the improvements. He elaborates: “it looks like they have finally made the exact change I and other critics of the content ID dispute process have been calling for them to make.” McKay adds, however, that he regrets that it took YouTube so long to realize that “allowing copyright claimants to reinstate their own claims was a problem.” Whether or not the policy change will make a true difference is yet to be seen, but in the very least YouTube is addressing the content ID dispute problem and taking steps in the right direction to correct it.