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YouTube’s Content ID System Doesn’t Work

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(Hypebot) — YouTube’s Content Id System proves faulty when it recently flagged a video of a cat purring for copyright infringement, writes Timothy Geigner of Techdirt.

Op_Ed by Timothy Geigner from TechDirt.

YouTube’s Content ID automated copyright system sucks. There, I said it. Any review of the different posts we’ve done specifically on the topic of Content ID can only leave you with one impression: the system doesn’t work. Not that it never works, of course, but when you build a system that is designed specifically to allow 3rd parties to take down speech content, that system had damned well better not be wide the hell open for abuse or laughable errors. Well, guess what? You’ve got your music labels getting works taken down that were specifically designed not to not be infringing, news organizations managed to claim their own live streams as copyright infringing, and music labels being able to demonetize videos of a guy singing public domain Christmas carols. It’s all very stupid, very much the tip of the iceberg, and very much an indication that Content ID, in its current state, is broken.

What’s that, you say? You need more? Fine, a guy uploaded videos of his cat purring and those got claimed by two different labels as infringing on their copyrights.

YouTube’s automated takedown tool is known for its flaws, but this week it crossed a line by attacking a purring cat. According to YouTube’s Content-ID system both EMI Publishing and PRS own the rights to a 12 second purring loop. Last March, YouTube user Digihaven uploaded one hour of video loops featuring his cat Phantom, purring, as cats do. The video didn’t go viral but appealed to a niche public, and more recently also two major music publishers.

Nearly a year after the video was posted Digihaven was informed by YouTube that Phantom is “pirate” purring. Apparently, part of the 12 second loop belongs to EMI Music Publishing and PRS.

Yes, this is sort of funny, but only after you’ve encountered so many Content ID problems just like this that you become dead inside, like me. I’ve made statements like this before, but I’ll repeat it again: your automated copyright system doesn’t have to be perfect, but if your system is so flawed that a 12 second video of a cat purring can be flagged by multiple music labels then your system sucks so badly that you need to completely start from scratch on a new one.

Now, I’ve done some haphazard searching for songs entitled “Focus” by artists on the EMI label and, frankly, I gave up. There are a ton of search results for songs that include that word in their titles. That being said, I’m fairly certain that EMI doesn’t have a band with a song that is 12 seconds of a cat purring or, if that in fact is a thing, that such a video would be copyrightable. In other words, either way, EMI and PRS should not be monetizing Phantom the Cat’s musical stylings.

“I’m sure EMI/PRS made Phantom a sad kitty. It seems like companies such as EMI are pirating ads on people’s legit videos, so I’m wondering if they apologize to, or reimburse people for those false claims,” he tells TF.

Hoping to clear his cat’s name Digihaven decided to file a dispute. This was partially successful, as EMI lifted its claim shortly before publication of this article.

Which, absurdly, means now Phantom just has to figure out what PRS’ problem is.

Or, hey, maybe we could all just admit together that Content ID in its current form doesn’t work and should be done away with in some organized and planned fashioned. Replace it with a better automated system. Replace it with more humans doing moderation. Admit that content moderation at scale is completely impossible and stop trying.

Anything would be better than living under a automated system we all know sucks.


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