The absurdity of YouTube’s Copyright Claim System

I recently found a bumblebee nest in my back yard. Friends on Facebook asked questions about it, and I decided to set up a GoPro and record a video of the bee’s activity. After assembling segments into a two hour video, I decided to add some music. Knowing that is a tricky proposition on YouTube, because of the insanity of illegitimate organizations making copyright claims on the tiniest sample they can suss out of a video, I came up with a strategy I thought would be foolproof:

  1. Pick my music: Flight of the Bumblebee, composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov sometime around 1899-1900. Long out of copyright.
  2. Find a MIDI file built from the score.
  3. Run the MIDI file through a computerized synth to get a mp3 file.
  4. ***
  5. No profit. (YouTube took away my ability to monetize.)

I even included this helpful message in the description:

**The musical accompaniment is a computer generated audio track created from a MIDI file transcribed from the original score. As the score itself is long out of copyright, and this is not a human performance, you would be blatantly abusing the Youtube copyright system if you attempt to file a claim against this video.**

As a computer generated rendering of a MIDI file of a public domain work, there should be no basis for a copyright claim. And yet… I got one within minutes of uploading my video. This had to gave been done by an automated system that scans all new videos on Youtube, for I do not have a popular channel. I’m reasonably sure my only subscribers are family members and the occasional random person who took pity on me. At my current rate of subscribers and views I should qualify for monetization right around the time we finish colonizing Mars.

A company called AdRev Publishing has filed a claim: “Monetized in some territories” What does that even mean? Monetized isn’t the same as copyrighted. There are people that ‘monetize’ Project Gutenberg public domain books by publishing them as ebooks on Amazon, but that doesn’t grant them rights.

They specifically filed a claim against the interval occurring between 16:59 and 19:04. That’s really odd, since I repeated the exact same piece of music approximately 60 times. If they have a claim, and its legitimate, why pick a specific interval in the middle? Why not the first iteration? Why not the whole video? I suspect they didn’t file against the whole video so that if I successfully dispute this they can just file again for a different time interval. Or maybe it’s even more evil… Maybe they only file against a small subset of people’s videos with the expectation that people won’t risk their account on a dispute for such a small slice of the ad revenue; and in that way make tiny slices of revenue from large numbers of creators.

AdRev didn’t demand I take my video down. Nooo… they leveraged YouTube’s system so that the video now shows ads and they get the money. What really makes this absurd is that I can’t show ads for revenue on my own videos, because YouTube changed their requirements and I no longer make the cut. So I make a video, AdRev swoops in and files a completely bogus claim against a computer generated rendition of a public domain piece of music, and AdRev gets to make money on my videos where I can not.

This is my response to the claim on Youtube:

The music in my video is Flight of the Bumblebee, composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov between 1899 and 1900; and it is in the public domain.

The specific orchestration of the piece used in my video is non-human; it was generated using a MIDI file made from the score and then run through a computer based synthesizer, so it can not be a copyrighted performance.

I respectfully ask that the claimant provide documentation for how they can be representing the rights of a Russian composer who has been dead for 111 years, or for the synthesizer used to render this piece.

It appears that AdRev has a history of filing illegitimate claims against Flight of the Bumblebee. Perhaps the existence of precedence could be used to block them from making similar future claims?

When the content reviewers at YouTube realize the absurdity of this claim, I ask that AdRev’s claim be rejected with prejudice; so that they don’t just keep re-filing for the other 59 instances that this same clip appeared in my video.

While filing my dispute to their claim I am presented with a dire warning that filing a fraudulent dispute can result in the termination of my account. This is a scary threat for some content creators, as they may be depending on income from their videos. This warning feels a bit one-sided to me, as AdRev has been filing claims against Flight of the Bumblebee since at least 2017 and in at least one case dropping the claim when it was disputed. Is there no penalty for a company filing fraudulent claims? How many times have they pulled this maneuver?

In another display of bias against the creators that made Youtube what it is, when a claim is filed it goes into effect immediately; but they then have thirty days to respond to your dispute. That’s thirty days where a creator is in limbo stressing about the fate of their monetization. I wonder how many claims are filed by automated systems and then left hanging for thirty days after they are disputed?

This is what YouTube has become: A platform where content creators upload videos and copyright trolls can file an illegitimate automated claim and steal any potential revenue, and where the threat of a lost account will deter people from disputing those claims.

UPDATE 2019/12/11 (NZT, of course!) – Thanks to Cory Doctorow’s awesome write-up at boingboing, and the sleuthing of Sluggo in the message boards, these two interesting tidbits have come to light:

UPDATE 2019/12/12 – I received an update from YouTube today that Adrev has deigned to release their illegitimate claim on my public domain music. YouTube considers this “Good news!” but I find it disturbing. My takeaway is that YouTube never reviewed my response, and instead allowed AdRev to self police. If that’s the process, then YouTube gets to remain blissfully ignorant of the abuses occurring on their platform.

Phase two of this experiment is coming soon…

4 Replies to “The absurdity of YouTube’s Copyright Claim System”

  1. This is a very interesting blog. Been experiencing these things too lately. As a small youtuber, this really is not good for a motivation to create more contents.

    As a musician, our content is to share what inspires us to move forward, to be creative, and lucky enough we get an applause, then that makes our heart flutter.

    A clap is the food of a musician, but then, along the way, how can we create more content if these BIG LEGALISTIC COMPANY GUYS keeps on intervening, and WORST is, this is all FAKE! what I mean is, “they manually identify the claim” really?? a person? I don’t think so.

    I tested it, when I’m on the upload section and about to hit the “PUBLISH” button, after clicking it, JUST BY 2 SECONDS MARK! My video got flagged IMMEDIATELY with copyright claim. HOW’S THAT even possible?? (FOR A PERSON or HUMAN BEING without even watching it first??)

    That gave me a weird feeling, so I tested again, and boom! 2 seconds mark again! someone got me a claim again.

    Thus, gave me my own theory of YOUTUBE ALGORITHM really exist. Its not really a REAL PERSON who identifies it. It’s their algorithm that does it. Saw some videos of known musicians who struggles also with this, you see the weird part for them?

    They made a tutorial video of a specific guitar solo of a specific song, and that specific guitar solo is owned by THAT SPECIFIC VIDEO CREATOR who created the tutorial! that’s his own material! he just created a tutorial about it! that really gave me the theory that this is ALL BASED ON ALGORITHMS.

    which is a very very unhelpful system for us musicians in youtube. As musicians, our main content is MUSIC, how can we now market or own talents? (unless you shift into a “go fishing every weekend vlog”) and don’t put any bg music, just plain fishing.

    Maybe by then, no company can hit you a copyright claim of a certain fish you got there!! (Sarcastically speaking).

    Anyways, I just felt your case mate, and I look forward to your update, or any update with regards to this matter at hand. For it really affects many musicians with their contents especially cover songs.


  2. Should there not be a “report” option in such cases, without threat of removal. And what does “monetized in some territories” really mean? It can be monetized? Or is already monetized? Terms can be confusing. I also imagine that if one video is monetized, and you have excerpts of 10 other videos, the other 10 are still monetizable. But no clarification on many things. ?

  3. I’m glad I found this article. I suspected something like this was going on. I guess I will have to deal with these bogus copyright claims by AdRev every time I post a new video using public domain music which I have arranged on my own. Hopefully YouTube will manage to sort this out eventually.

  4. Hi Chris,

    I’ve my video copyright claim with the same music: Flight of the bumblebee, my copy was an Apple ][ computer software generated sound, much lower quality than your MIDI.

    And after your copyright release, I hit again in 2021-06-11. YouTube never learn!!!

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