How YouTube “Monetizes” Your Songs to Sell Illegal Goods

Monetize, monetize, monetize.  This is the constant mantra from YouTube to all copyright owners but especially to songwriters.  YouTube gives all kinds of assurances about how they can block songs, recordings and movies with their superduper “ContentID” and “Content Management System.”  While these proprietary Google technologies get all kinds of props in the no-nothing press, anyone who uses these systems routinely knows that it requires a staff at each content owner in order to manage all the glitches and mistakes in ContentID and CMS–in order for either of these systems to function properly.

Why?  Because at the end of the day, running a large content database that involves registering content requires human intervention.  Costly human intervention.  One customer service call can destroy profits.  And YouTube has essentially outsourced this expensive part of their business to copyright owners.  If you work at a major publisher, you know exactly what I mean.  If you are an independent songwriter you probably don’t because you have resigned yourself to YouTube’s screw ups.

And this from a company that won’t let you audit?

Case in point–here’s a video from what appears to be an illegal pharmacy site that was uploaded to YouTube before the Google drugs case (see the 2011 nonprosecution agreement between Google and the Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice by which Google avoided being indicted for violations of the Controlled Substances Act by paying a $500,000,000 fine and promising good behavior).

Note three things:  The video is “user generated content” (“user” in this context means a YouTube user not a drug user.  We think.)

Second, the video has a music bed.  Ironically, it is “Teardrop” by Massive Attack which is also the theme from the House television show.  I seriously doubt that Massive Attack has any idea that their song is being used to sell drugs through this sketchy video.

We know that YouTube knows the song in the video because they have a link to it by name on Google Play.

Finally, the video is monetized–ads are playing on the page, pre-roll before the video, and inside the video–in fact, the same ads are in each, so the campaign is coordinated.

YouTube Drugs Montana

This ad is for Southwest Montana–the State of Montana is buying ads to promote a drugs site and Google.  These ads are served by Google–note the credit “Ads by Google”.

YouTube Drugs Eakin

And then there’s this ad for Eakin Kia in Killeen, Texas.  I doubt seriously whether Mr. Eakin has any idea that he’s promoting the sale of drugs on YouTube.

Not to be outdone, Google itself advertises its Google Chrome product, probably due to the keyword “tablet”.

Chrome Drugs

Why is it that Massive Attack, the House television program and Eakin Kia are in this situation?

Because YouTube doesn’t give them the choice to block individual video uses.  And this video has been in place for 3 years.

Because YouTube wants to make the money–even when it involves practices that nearly put the company’s top executives in jail, was the subject of a lengthy grand jury investigation and for which Google shareholders paid $500,000,000.

They can pay $500,000,000 in punishment to the government, but they can’t quite manage to find a way to tell advertisers or songwriters that their songs or ads are being used to push drugs to YouTube’s young audience.

See also “What are you authorizing when you allow YouTube to monetize your songs?