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Must Read Guest Post by @kerrymuzzey: YouTube’s Latest Deceptive Tactic

August 14, 2019

[We’re thrilled to have a chance to publish an important Twitter thread by composer Kerry Muzzey that crystalizes a number of phenomena:  How Kerry caught YouTube using Content ID as a tool to extend the period of time that they can profit from infringement (or the “piracy profit window”), how draining it is for indies to chase YouTube (the “ennui of learned helplessness”), and how the cost of chasing YouTube reduces (or erases) any income from the video monopolist (the “Great Streaming Disappointment”). Kerry also provides a timely illustration of both why we need copyright small claims and one reason Google is sending in their proxies to fight it.  We appreciate Kerry giving us permission to post his thread and for being “here for the long haul”.]

I’m an indie guy.  I would love to just spend my time making more music, pitching, demo’ing for jobs. But like all indies, I have to make a choice—do I let YouTube and others just rip me off or do I try to stop it despite the burdens.

Here’s a new YouTube tactic that I first thought was a mistake when it happened recently, but they tried it again today, so now I think it’s pretty much just “the new stall tactic.” 

I recently found a bunch of unlicensed uses of my music on a Chinese broadcaster’s channel: these were TV shows where my tunes were used as underscore and then the series were put on YouTube and monetized. 

It took a couple years for Content ID to locate these uses and  during that time both YouTube and the broadcaster were able to co-monetize a couple million views of these shows. 

When I caught on to what was happening, I did my takedowns through the Content ID dashboard (meaning that YouTube itself located the uses and presented them to me in my Content ID dashboard) but they didn’t process my takedowns, which was weird.

I emailed YouTube Copyright (there are no names and no direct contacts at Copyright/Legal & you can’t get a name or direct contact person).  “YouTube Copyright” said they needed confirmation of the titles of my works because there was something wrong with my metadata with these particular titles in Content ID. 

Spoiler alert: there was nothing wrong with my metadata: these same works have been active just fine for 6.5 years now, and suddenly when I have claims against a massive China broadcaster YouTube finds there’s a problem with the accuracy of my titles & my metadata when they never have before?? 

Back to my claim—the Music Department at YouTube confirmed that my metadata was fine and accurate after all, and deferred to YouTube Copyright. I sent YT Copyright my copyright registrations for the works in question, reaffirmed that my metadata was fine and reaffirmed the accuracy of my claims: 24 hours later those infringing videos finally came down. 

I thought this was a one-off thing: a glitch. Until this morning when I got a batch of the same emails  from YouTube Copyright saying that there was a problem with my titles and metadata relating to the particular songs that I had struck on another Chinese broadcaster yesterday: videos that have a collective 4,000,000 heavily-monetized views on them from a different one  of China’s largest broadcasters.

But there’s nothing wrong with my metadata or my titles.  These works have been just fine since Feb 2013. So suddenly, 6 years later, there’s a problem with these songs…on the same day when I catch a huge TV network in China having used my music in their shows that were then put on YouTube and co-monetized by YouTube for 2.5 years to the tune of 4,000,000 views, with forced pre-roll ads, forced intermittent ad breaks, bannering, and video-adjacent page advertising, all on a channel in China that has 3,500,000 subscribers and more than 400,000,000 channel views on it. 

I just replied to all of their “problem w/title+metadata” emails with my copyright registrations attached and a re-affirmation of my claims and asked them to lay off the stall tactics and just process my takedowns. Which is NOT gonna go over well with this heavily-monetized channel in China and they’ll probably falsely counter-notify on everything because that’s what usually happens with China. 

But you know what? YouTube has a China problem. And they know it. And they look the other way because they can make a ton of money on those infringing videos. 

The asterisk here, and the “watch this space” moment is something I’ve long suspected and now feel like must be true: YouTube says that it has the same detection thresholds for music in Content ID worldwide, but I don’t believe it.

I think that my continuing discovery of my music in these ex-US programs, years after the fact and only after millions of monetized views have happened, is building up a body of proof towards that theory. 

And if that’s the case – YouTube has a problem.  What happens if YouTube tightens detection thresholds in big ad-sales territories like China with major broadcasters for the purpose of avoiding detection so as to increase ability to monetize what they know is content with 100% unlicensed music? Then YouTube is violating the DMCA and eventually they’re gonna get busted. 

So if you’re a tech person or journalist who’s interested in this sort of thing, here’s the question I would pose directly to YouTube the next time you talk to one of their execs: Does YouTube set different music detection thresholds based on territory, channel subscribership and degree of monetization on a channel? 

Get them on the record. Record their answer, write it down, put it in your article, publish it. Eventually someone has to hold their feet to the fire.  Step 1 is getting them to go on-the-record with their lies or their admission of gaming the system for the sake of ad revenue. 

I’m an indie guy and would love to just spend my time making more music. But until YouTube stops making it OK for giant corporations to steal my stuff and co-monetize it with YouTube itself, I’m stuck in this muck. 

Here for the long haul, – Kerry

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