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YouTube hits back against lawsuit over Content ID access

By | Published on Wednesday 23 September 2020


YouTube has hit back at a lawsuit that argued that the Google-owned video site should not enjoy protection under the copyright safe harbour because it doesn’t make its Content ID rights management system available to everyone.

In its response, YouTube says that the musician behind the lawsuit, Maria Schneider, herself proves that independent creators can in fact access Content ID via third party agents. Meanwhile, it says that the company that is also involved in the lawsuit, Pirate Monitor, is a dodgy dealer whose own conduct demonstrates why YouTube is fussy about who gets Content ID access.

Schneider’s complaint that it’s not fair that only larger rights owners get access to the Content ID system for monetising and managing music that appears in user-generated content across the YouTube site is a common gripe among independent music-makers and smaller music companies.

However, in her legal complaint filed in July, she went one step further, arguing that the alternative manual system for issuing takedown notices against YouTube was inefficient and ineffective.

Given that dealing with such takedowns is an obligation for internet companies seeking to avoid liability for the copyright infringement of their users – ie to rely on safe harbour protections – that’s arguably a problem for YouTube.

Needless to say, in its formal response to the lawsuit YouTube argues that it complies with all of its obligations under US safe harbour rules whether or not copyright owners alert it to infringing content manually or via Content ID. The latter system, it stresses, provide tools for copyright owners that go “far beyond what the law requires”.

As for why only bigger rights owners get Content ID access, YouTube says in its counterclaim – filed with the courts this week – that “Content ID … empowers users to automatically, or at the touch of a button, remove content from YouTube or block it from appearing in the first place. The tools thus have the potential to be used improperly to censor videos that others have every right to post and share through YouTube”.

“Further”, it adds, “the tools enable users to claim ownership rights in others’ content, and to siphon to themselves revenue that rightly belongs to others. Because of the potential for abuse of these scaled tools, YouTube limits access to them, seeking to ensure that those who use them will do so responsibly, and will not cause harm to YouTube, its users, or to other copyright owners”.

However, it adds, those creators and smaller copyright owners who do not have access to Content ID can still indirectly access the system by allying with a company that is already a Content ID partner. So, in music, that would usually be a music distributor. And, YouTube, adds, Schneider herself is proof that that option both exists and works.

“Plaintiff Schneider complains that she has been denied access to YouTube’s Content ID system”, YouTube’s counterclaim states. “But [she] has long had that access through her agent who has expressly used Content ID to generate revenue on her behalf using the Content ID system”.

That agent also has an active licensing deal with YouTube covering Schneider’s music, it also claims, meaning that Schneider can’t sue for copyright infringement because the Google site has a licence for her music.

As for Pirate Monitor, YouTube is more scathing about its involvement in the lawsuit. The counterclaim makes various allegations about the conduct of the anti-piracy firm, concluding that that conduct demonstrates why Content ID access is not available to all.

It accuses Pirate Monitor of setting up various anonymous accounts on YouTube, uploading snippets of films controlled by its clients, and then issuing takedown requests against those uploads.

“Pirate Monitor’s serial uploads and DMCA takedown requests for the same videos were central to a scheme through which it hoped to gain access to YouTube’s powerful copyright management tools, in particular Content ID”, YouTube then alleges.

That scheme was instigated, it’s claimed, because Pirate Monitor was told that, to get Content ID access, it needed to demonstrate both that it had enough rights management to undertake to warrant access and that it had sufficient experience of the takedown process as prescribed by America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

“Pirate Monitor believed that it could demonstrate both the need for access and a track record of valid DMCA takedown requests by surreptitiously uploading a substantial volume of content through accounts seemingly unconnected to it”, YouTube states, “and then sending DMCA takedown requests for that same content”.

However, through that scheme Pirate Monitor and its agents either fraudulently claimed to have the rights to upload the video clips that were posted to the anonymous YouTube channels or falsely claimed that those clips infringed copyright and should be taken down. Either way, YouTube concludes, that’s dishonest conduct. And dishonest organisations shouldn’t have access to Content ID.

So that’s fun. It remains to be seen how Schneider and Pirate Monitor respond. Though, either way, the grassroots music community is likely to continue calling for more widespread access to YouTube’s Content ID system.