YouTube has released a tool called “Checks” to help and warn creators about copyright violations and ad suitability issues during the upload and processing step and before they hit the “Publish” button. While some creators are intentional violators, others might accidentally transgress, and it’s for creators like them that this tool is really aimed at.
YouTube’s Checks feature is aimed at letting creators know if their content contains copyrighted material. If the creator is in the Ad program, then the tool also checks for ad suitability. It’s important to complete these checks “sooner than later” because if a published video contains copyrighted material, then it can be taken down via copyright violation claims. These claims can result in the creator losing the video, their account, and most likely, any revenue generated.
How does YouTube Checks work?
The Checks tool is embedded into the video upload process that every creator has to upload and publish their videos on YouTube. When you upload your video, YouTube will present you with an additional and optional step to check your video for copyright violations. At this stage, YouTube compares your video (video and audio, i.e.) against a database of copyright-protected content on YouTube. If any violations are found, you’ll be notified right away and will have the option to rectify and re-upload your content.
YouTube says that this additional processing step will add only a few extra minutes to your upload and publishing process. There is also the option to publish your video while the copyright checking is going on, but if you find that your content is in violation, you’d have to take it down to rectify it and re-upload it.
The disclaimer at the end clarifies that this tool is not the final authority on copyright violations. The disclaimer reads thus
“Please note: this does not protect your videos from other potential issues after publishing (like future manual claims, copyright strikes, and/or restrictions as a result of edits to your video settings).”
YouTube’s Content ID System
The “Checks” tool is based on YouTube’s “Content ID” system (explained here). Copyright owners use a Content ID to identify and manage their content on YouTube. This article by YouTube explains a lot about Content ID and qualifying for it.
Here is a short video from YouTube on how Content ID works.
To summarize, here are a few facts about Content ID.
First off, not everyone is eligible for Content ID and there are certain strict parameters and checks that you need to pass first.
Most importantly, your content must be original, and you should be able to prove that and sign an undertaking that your content is original and have exclusive rights over it. This means that creators who upload the following will be excluded from the Content ID program
- mash-ups, fail-video-compilations taken from Instagram videos
- recording of concerts or events
- video gameplay, software visuals, trailers
- unlicensed music and video
Okay, assuming that you don’t upload such videos and you create, let’s say, original documentaries on Japanese knife making! Then, you can apply and qualify for Content ID, sign an agreement with YouTube and along the way, show them your content is authentic, and you have exclusive rights over them.
Then, YouTube will “fingerprint” your qualified videos, add these fingerprints to a database, and check every single video on YouTube to see if your content has been used illegally.
This does seem like a robust system, and there have been some spectacular take-downs of content where only a few seconds of copyrighted audio has been used – only a few seconds! Even whistling or humming a sound can be appropriated to be copyright violations, so be careful! Here is an article with a lot of information about Copyright claims from YouTube.
But, there are a lot of complexities in claiming and recognizing copyright violations. It’s quite common to see videos uploaded to YouTube that have been ripped off of providers like HGTV or NFL and then resized/flipped to escape copyright checkers. And, it appears that these videos do make it past YouTube’s checkers.
How are Creators then escaping Copyright Strikedowns?
As the video above explained, YouTube creates fingerprints of authentic content submitted via the Content ID system, and these fingerprints are compared against videos to catch violators. In other words, if you want to violate copyrights, then you have to beat the fingerprints.
And most fingerprinting algorithms for video depend on visual cues, object-tracking, positions of pixels at certain instances of time, or transform domain coefficients, etc., to fingerprint content. It’s pretty similar to ACR or Automatic Content Recognition used in SmartTVs these days, and you can learn more about ACR in this article.
Unfortunately, this is where image manipulation techniques like the ones listed below are used in a poor attempt to beat the system.
- flipping a video (mirror image)
- crop and then resized
- changing the frame-rate of the content
For example, here is a video titled “Snatch Best Quotes” that has racked up 500K views since upload, and it’s clear that the creator has resized the video and zoomed in, and letter-boxed the video in an attempt to escape fingerprinting algorithms.
I am sure YouTube R&D is doing a lot of work to beat these “creators” who simply benefit from the hard-work done by others.
YouTube’s “Checks” is a step in the right direction to help genuine, well-meaning content creators publish content on YouTube without unneessary headaches. I hope the system is continually improved and YouTube educates more creators about the benefits of creating original content and attributing or puchasing audio-video if they want to use them in their creations.