YouTube's Automated Copyright Video Scan Appears Broken

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 27, 2012
Updated • Jan 1, 2013
Google, Youtube

Imagine the following scenario. You film how you are collecting ingredients for a wild salad, and upload the video to YouTube. You then get a copyright claim later on stating that the video contains copyrighted music from another company, even though there is no music in the video other than the song of birds.

You can refute that claim, but the company YouTube has identified as the copyright holder can refute that. When this happens, companies who claim they have the rights to the video can do a number of things, for instance ad advertisement to the videos to generate revenue, or display a link to the song's iTunes page to get viewers to buy the song there.

This story happened to a YouTube user, who posted about it on the YouTube support forum.

I posted a video which is basically just me walking and talking, outdoors, away from any possible source of music.

And apparently youtube identified my video as containing copyrighted music from a company called rumblefish. I filed a dispute, and now I'm waiting for said company to respond to it. Is this a freak occurrence? I feel pretty violated by this, a mysterious entity claiming to own my content and apparently profiting from it with ads.

There are birds singing in the background in the video, could they own the rights to birdsong?

And here is the video to watch.

A Reddit thread is close to breaking the 1000 comment mark, with some YouTube users chiming in stating that they had the same experience. One user's footage of him riding a motorcycle with no sound other than that of the engine was disputed as well by YouTube's automated system. And while it is possible to dispute the claims, it does not necessarily mean the end of it, as companies have the power to confirm they own the copyright. If they do, YouTube will believe them and not the disputing user.

YouTube uses an automated system to detect copyright infringement to appease rights holders. This system should not be confused with DMCA notices, as they would require the copyright holder to send a notice to YouTube to have the contents taken down. The automated system uses a content ID database that tries to match contents of all videos that get uploaded to the database. If a video is flagged this way on YouTube, its current monetization method is removed from it. The uploader now has the option to refute the claim, but even if that is done, YouTube waits for the company to respond to the claim as well before they are acting on behalf of the uploader if the claim was made in error.

One issue that make occur at this point is that copyright owners may confirm ownership without viewing the video at all. If that happens, the uploader's only chance is to contact the copyright claiming company directly to ask them to ask them to release their claim.

With false positives generated by the system, would you say it is time to change the detection algorithm or process completely? Or do you think it is necessary for YouTube to have such a system in place?


Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. Morely the IT Guy said on February 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    The correct response is to file a criminal complaint with the local District Attorney and US attorney against anyone making a false claim of copyright, under United States Code Title 17, para 506(c):

    “(c) Fraudulent Copyright Notice. — Any person who, with fraudulent intent, places on any article a notice of copyright or words of the same purport that such person knows to be false, or who, with fraudulent intent, publicly distributes or imports for public distribution any article bearing such notice or words that such person knows to be false, shall be fined not more than $2,500.”

  2. Jim said on February 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Isn’t this Chapter 3 in the “How to Become Irrelevant” textbook? I guess we can officially say 2012 is the year Google began to suck. Some folks would even say it was 2011, but I’m being nice. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the MBAs are running the company now, not the geeks. Motto, smatotto…all they care about is quarterly earnings now.

  3. JohnMWhite said on February 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    The fact that Youtube will automatically believe a company claiming copyright over an individual user is the primary problem with all of these ‘copyright protection’ schemes in a nutshell – individuals just plain do not matter, by design. The Internet has been a great leveling field – given sufficient skill and/or appropriate content, an individual’s youtube videos may be far more interesting to me than a professional TV show, regardless of their financial resources, but there is not really anything to stop a company saying “we own that” and either making money from it or having it removed. Contrast this with people who dare to care about a company’s product enough to do something like make a fan video, who will find themselves on the end of copyright claims very quickly much of the time, despite gaining nothing but a little joy from what they do.

    Even protected speech is not actually protected. The DMCA fair use policy is pretty much ignored on Youtube, and you must be tenacious and incredibly patient if you want to keep your videos up even if you are obeying the law, because the copyright holders simply don’t have to. Viacom will not allow Daily Show or Colbert Report clips to appear for any purpose, legitimate or not, despite those shows only being able to exist because of the DMCA’s fair use policy the parent company happily ignores when it suits. In short – every situation on Youtube works out on the side of corporations.

  4. SCBright said on February 27, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    This automated system is really stupid.

    BTW: worst than Youtube’s copyright issues is the fact that I can’t see the guy washing those vegetables. He may heat some bug…

  5. Roman ShaRP said on February 27, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I think that current copyright system is insane at all, and should be destroyed.

    Some time ago someone told me a joke:
    “- How engineer would respond to a news that 1000 lawyers had been drowned in Atlantic ocean?
    — A good start!”

  6. Damirora said on February 27, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Youtube/Google fail a lot when it concerns issues like this.
    It’s my number 1 reason for not uploading my original content on there, because some scumbag company can claim they own the copyright, if they want to.
    Youtube is basically a digital mini-version of the united states. Organizations have more power than the normal individual.

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.