What is YouTube's Content ID (and other video sites content watchdogs)?

Content ID is the scary watchdog that makes sure YouTube is safe from it’s content creators illegally using copyrighted content they didn’t have a right to use. It's an automated process that scans all videos uploaded to their service to make sure there is no offending material embedded in the videos they host. On other platforms, such as Twitch and Vimeo, they use a similarly named system built by Audible Magic. Audible Magic's system works in a similar manner as YouTube's Content ID.

What Does Content ID Do?

Content ID allows publishers, and other rightful owners of music, to claim a work as their own. Once registered, that owner is notified whenever their music or content is detected in a video uploaded to YouTube (or other video streaming services with which owners have registered). If you get dinged by Content ID, the person who owns the content gets notified, and they can act against your video in one of the following manners:

  1. Removing the offending video from YouTube (or the service),

  2. Muting the audio track, or

  3. Hijacking your monetization of the video.

While this seems a little unfair and annoying, it’s a necessary step for Google and other services to take in order to keep their services running. It also has cushioned their service from the already aggressive RIAA’s legal ban-hammer.

Additionally, Content ID is used to help make sure royalties are paid out to individuals who contributed to making a song. YouTube and other such companies will keep count of how often this music is played so it can make payments to the royalty holders, otherwise known as PROs and Performance Royalties.

How Does Content ID work?

Content ID works through an automated process that YouTube and companies like Audible Magic have honed over the years. It analyzes a video on the video streaming platform sometime after it has been uploaded. It takes samples of the video and audio and tries to match it against registered audio and video content in their database. When it finds a match, it notifies the requisite owners of the video or audio content, informing them that it found their content in an uploaded video. It will also flag and notify the uploader of said conflict. Since the process is automated, it sometimes incorrectly flags videos that haven't actually offended any copyright laws. In either scenario, the uploader is given the opportunity to appeal. In the case of wrongful content identification, the uploader may need to appeal to Google/YouTube (or other streaming sites) to contest the wrongful content strike.

What Happens If Content ID has flagged my video to a publisher or artist?

Music libraries, such as Pond5, Epidemic Sound, and others, typically guarantee that some or all of the music that they sell will clear Content ID hurdles, whether through agreements with the artists for exclusive content rights or by registering content themselves. Bard can filter results at the top level to help make sure your buying experience is as transparent as possible.

Even with these guarantees, however, conflicts can arise. One example might be that an artist who provides content to such a music library may also register that same content with YouTube (or another streaming service), forgetting about their agreement with the music library. This causes the music to be flagged during YouTube's Content ID check even though the library (from which the music was purchased) assigned rights to the uploader.

When a conflict arises, it is best to deal with the library from which you purchased the music. Each library has different directions and methods for dealing with a conflict. Below is a handy list of links to take you to the content libraries' Content ID help page:

What Else Do I Need to Know About Content ID?

Content ID can get a bit confusing because it is an automated system and sometimes a piece of music or content can have multiple registered owners. This complication may arise when, for example, a musician registers their own music to Content ID and then a publisher like TuneCore registers it on behalf of that musician. This means that two separate companies might have a claim to a piece of content If you legally got it from one and not the other, then you are forced to arbitrate in order to free up your video.

Additionally, a site like Epidemic Sound gets exclusive publishing rights to artist’s music and register’s that content with Content ID as well. If the song is from multiple contributors, then a piece of music might have additional artists also claiming a piece of music independently of the music publisher. Much like the above example, it forces you to arbitrate before you can free your song.

In some cases, the content library will go to bat for you. Companies like Epidemic Sound or Pond 5 have published content that has been pre-vetted to varying degrees. The content library is so confident of their provided license that they will arbitrate for you if there is a Content ID or copyright conflict.

In an ideal world, only one person would be able to claim a piece of content, leaving you with a single point of contact for resolving a dispute. In reality, multiple parties can own a content and multiple parties can grant license to use content, causing confusing conflicts that require the different parties to arbitrate between themselves to resolve the problem.