Last week, a number of blogs broke a story about a YouTube video produced by Brian Kamerer, which had been aired on NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ and subsequently flagged for a copyright violation and blocked on YouTube.
The video in question was a campaign ad that Kamerer created for his friend, Travis Irvine, who was running for mayor of Bexley, Ohio, at the time. It had been sitting in YouTube’s inventory until Leno’s staff unearthed it for a bit they were doing on campaign ads in 2009.
Apparently, Kamerer went to search for the video recently, and found that it had been blocked on YouTube due to copyright infringement reasons by NBC Universal, prompting Kamerer to pen an open letter to Leno on Splitsider.com.
Yeah, I’d say he was pretty well pissed…
‘The Tonight Show’ didn’t notify Kamerer that they were planning to run his piece in advance, or advise him afterward that they had done so, which wasn’t at all cool, and most likely not legal, although, in the long run, I don’t know that a lot of small content creators would turn down an opportunity to get their work shown on Leno’s show in any event. Not really the point.
The bulk of Kamerer’s rage was directed at Jay and company for ‘getting the video removed’ from YouTube, and I have to throw a flag on that play.
As much as anyone would love to dump on the big, bad, corporate media empire for stompin’ on the little guy, this really isn’t Leno’s, ‘The Tonight Show’ staff’s, or NBC Universal’s fault…The blame here lies with Google/YouTube, and the well-intentioned-but-faulty Content ID program. Also the way YouTube, and its policies, generally favor the large corporate players at the expense of small content creators, as well as YouTube’s appalling, and generally irresponsible, lack of any meaningful Customer Service program.
The latter problem is by design, and symptomatic of large tech companies who simply do not wish to interact with their customers real time, and via humans…Which is discussed by LA Times columnist, David Lazarus, in last week’s, ‘Searching for a way to get a human being on the phone at Google‘.
YouTube and Content ID
Content ID is touted by YouTube as a feature designed to allow content creators to protect their IP. It’s pretty simple: The content creator uploads reference content and metadata, YouTube’s algorithm scans uploaded content against the reference, and flags it if a match occurs.
As a content creator you have several ways to handle a match…That is allowing it, allowing it but taking the monetization for yourself, or having it pulled from YouTube.
There is a procedure for appealing Content ID matches (I had it happen once on a political satire video I created, and the owner of the content, a campaign ad, agreed that I was making use of their content appropriately, which is a rarity), but it is stilted heavilly in favor of YouTube Partners and large companies, largely due to the access that bigger players have to direct connections at YouTube…The bigger the player, the more likely they are to have a access to people at YouTube who can resolve things for them, leaving smaller content creators to the mercy of YouTube’s automated systems. If a dialog box says you’re screwed, well then you well and truly are…
Kamerer’s Problem, and Why NBC is not to blame (this time.)
The problem that caused Brian Kamerer’s video to be blocked is two-fold.
First, NBC likely doesn’t interact with YouTube users on Content ID matches. They have probably made a blanket decision to have YouTube pull all of their copyrighted IP, no questions asked…Which may or may not understandable, depending on your point of view. They may have decided that there is just too much content out there to want to mediate every single item, and they have no reason to negotiate on use of their IP.
The second part of the problem, and where it gets fuzzy, is when a content creator embeds another content creator’s video in their show… In other words Kamerer’s campaign ad is embedded in ‘The Tonight Show’, and it is getting included in their Content ID reference video as part of ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’. The video is not distinguishable as someone else’s content embedded within the NBC program content. This is potentially a HUGE problem…for the little guy.
Let’s say you are the creator of a hit web series, and you go on a talk show and show a clip…The next thing you know that clip is embedded as part of some network, or syndicator’s, reference video in a Content ID database, and your webisode suddenly gets flagged and removed from YouTube. That’s not just a hypothetical…It’s already happened to one content creator that I know of, and created a real problem. But for whom?
I’d say it’s YouTube’s problem, and a problem that needs to be addressed, as it’s one that is only going to become a more prevalent…But…At the end of the day it’s the small content creator’s problem, because they can’t pick up a telephone and call someone who can deal with the issue. If your problem is not covered by a checkbox on a YouTube page, you are out of luck.
In reality, if the Content ID program was designed properly, when the talk show with the embedded content uploaded their reference, and the small web creator’s content was embedded in it, YouTube’s algorithm should throw up a flag saying, “Hey, this content already exists here and belongs to someone else…What’s the deal?”
There are other scenarios that are problematic as well…You want to create a news show, or movie/tv review program, and show sample clips for review/commentary? That’s almost impossible to monetize with Content ID, unless you’ve got enough clout with YouTube to address all of the matches with studio inventory that will come up, either immediately, or at some point in the future (You can upload something today that is fine, because it’s not in the match database, but that could change and your content can get flagged down the road.)
YouTube needs to address these, and other issues in a meaningful way…In other words, if these use cases can’t be accommodated algorithmically in YouTube’s program code, they must provide some intelligent way of specifying licensed content within a Content ID upload, or providing an interactive customer service mechanism for all content creators to get these issues resolved in a reasonable, timely, manner.
The Bottom Line
So as much as I’d like to get behind Brian Kamerer and his rant at ‘Da’ Man’, ‘Da’ Man’ is YouTube, in this case, and he should be ranting at Google/YouTube and demanding that they start moving to put a meaningful customer service to deal with all of these kinds of nuanced, soft issues that their beloved algorithms just can’t handle.
As Lazarus points out in his LA Times column, it borders on irresponsible for a company with a $10 Billion profit margin to refuse to put a customer service infrastructure into place that makes it possible for content creators to have their issues addressed via personal contact with representatives of the company. Especially when those issues can result in having work removed, or monetization denied, due to copyright issues that are sufficiently abstract enough to require assessment that goes outside of the confines of what computerized systems can address.