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Why Is There Illegal Content on YouTube?

Youtube is filled with illegal content. It's estimated that there are at least 200 million illegal videos on the site, including full-length movies and TV shows from major studios like Disney, and full-length albums from major record labels. The site is filled with covers of songs, remixes of songs, song mashups, concert performances, and music video parodies that are illegal and in violation of copyright law.

Yet no Youtube user has ever been sued for illegally uploading content. Copyright owners do remove some content while ignoring others. There could be twenty illegal copies of a song posted on Youtube but the copyright owner may only remove one or two. Why do copyright owners seem to look the other way despite the vast sums of money at stake?

Illegal content on websites like YouTube can both help and harm content creators

Illegal content on websites like YouTube can both help and harm content creators

The title of a article "RIAA Spent $17.6 Million In Lawsuits... To Get $391,000 In Settlements?" might seem like it's the answer. There are too many ordinary people violating the law that simply don't have the money to pay damages. Copyright owners, or in this particular situation the Recording Industry Association of America, have to pay far more to lawyers than they could actually get in damages.

However, it isn't that simple anymore. Copyright owners do have a simple technology at hand, yet many of them aren't using it. The technology is called Content ID. If you upload a movie or song, Youtube can detect whether it contains copyrighted material or not and immediately block it. There is no need to file a complaint with Youtube to have the video removed and no need for a lawsuit. The technology now exists but many copyright owners seem unwilling to use it. Why?

Content ID

A Wall Street Journal article titled "Reappearing on YouTube: Illegal Movie Uploads" said:

Why the movie studios didn't block the films by using a special YouTube program—called Content ID—for identifying their copyrighted content is a mystery.

According to the article, spokespeople for the major studios declined to comment on why they weren't using Content ID on all of their content. One problem is that Content ID is not 100% effective. Content blocked on YouTube often ends up on Vimeo or similar websites. And modifications to a video like zooming in, flipping, or applying a special effect may bypass the system. Illegal content will still find its way onto the web despite efforts to stop it.

One thing content owners are doing on Youtube is identifying illegal content and then earning ad revenue from it. Youtube automatically places the ads for the copyright owners. This may indicate acceptance that owners simply can't stop this problem and will choose to earn something from it.

What is Content ID and How can You Use it

The Billboard Rule

There's a further complication for the recording industry. Billboard counts Youtube views when determining song placement on the all-important Hot 100 chart. Official songs and videos count. But so do live performances, illegal uploads, parodies, remixes, covers, and anything else related to the song. Any label that tries to remove music content on upload will put its artists at a disadvantage on the charts. Billboard is effectively encouraging illegal activity by fans and taking away a record label's incentives to fight it.

But Youtube and other social media sites like TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter can also be good for the labels. Songs and videos posted on these sites serve as free promos for the labels. A song that gets a lot of attention because of a parody or a creative remix will sell a lot more than a song that doesn't. An unknown producer named Bauer made a fortune when 30-second clips of his song Harlem Shake went viral. When people posted videos of themselves dancing to the intro, the popularity of those videos translated into sales. Say So by Doja Cat went viral thanks to a dance created by TikTok user Haley Sharpe and reached the top spot on the Billboard charts. Without that free promo, Doja Cat might never have made it onto the radio.

Free Promo

Ultimately that may be the answer. Ordinary people posting illegal content provide free promo. This may be one reason why record labels aren't putting a huge amount of effort into removing their music from social media sites. Fan edits of movies, TV shows, and Anime series build awareness and it doesn't cost content owners anything. And since content owners can identify their content on YouTube and earn ad revenue, it can be a win-win.

Considering how dispersed modern media is free promo is crucial. Consider all the streaming options available that produce original content: Netflix, Hulu, Apple, Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+, HBO Max, Disney Plus, etc. Allowing millions of people to post certain types of content means reaching audiences who may have no idea a particular show or movie exists. Obviously posting full shows or movies would be bad for business, but short clips in fan edits, reviews, and parodies can increase name recognition.

Content owners are in the difficult position of trying to protect their copyrights while also benefiting from the free promo that copyright violations offer. Illegal content can lead to both monetary losses and gains. If people don't pay for their work, content creators will no longer be able to create. But if people don't spread songs, TV shows, and movie clips on social media sites, many creative works would go unnoticed. Ultimately, content creators need to balance a need for promotion with the need to actually make money from their work.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 LT Wright


B. S. Hibschman on November 24, 2019:

Tarot Readers should be required to sign NDA (Non Disclosure Agreements) with the people for whom they do readings. Twice I have asked theTartot Reader, from whom I asked and payed for a couple of readings, to destroy ALL information (pertinent and background information) I sent to her for the readings when I no longer wanted to work with her. Twice I was told she KEEPS all information. Clients DO NOT know for what other purposes Tarot Readers use our information. I believe YouTube should set stringent guidelines that Tarot Readers should be forced to follow in order to conduct their businesses through YouTube.

Nick on June 08, 2019:

You can use Content ID in order to remove a video when there is couple of them on YouTube. But when there is thousands or even millions of videos you can't content ID them because you will need too much money and time for this action. I don't understand why this companies don't sue YouTube because they are making massive amounts of money and they do nothing to protect the real owner.