Ever since the advent of Internet-based, user generated mass media, Hollywood has been fighting a losing game of whack-a-mole against ordinary online users who share copyright-protected material in ways its creator didn’t explicitly authorize.
In particular, sites like YouTube, Vimeo and Dailymotion have enabled the proliferation of covers of popular songs, parodies, mash-ups of clips from movies and/or television shows (sometimes combined with music) and even, in some cases, people actually posting full movies online.
This kind of activity has sparked aggressive lobbying for ever harsher and harsher anti-piracy and pro-copyright laws by content creators. As anyone who watched the battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012 can attest, large segments of the content-producing world were seeking a government-enforced “blacklist” system, in which Internet service providers would be forced to treat practically any alleged copyright infringement as grounds to render a site unviewable.
Which is ironic, because the would-be “victims” who argued the hardest for SOPA have made more than $1 billion from the very proliferation of creativity they once tried to kill. That’s the tally, the Financial Times reports, for revenues derived by more than 5,000 companies (including all of the major U.S. television and film studios) who participate in YouTube’s “ContentID” program.
Under the program, creators are entitled to revenue streams from advertising sold on user-generated content that makes use of copyrighted material. Since it was established in 2007, most creators have opted to monetize the content, rather than block it.
The end result is mutually beneficial for creators, users and, ultimately, consumers. In some cases, it can open new revenue streams associated, for instance, with films that might otherwise have languished in a proverbial vault of commercial flops. Users who want to get discovered for their covers of popular songs, or simply want a space to perform, need not fear take-down notices for the crime of doing nothing but singing.
Which is not to say that Content ID itself is always perfect. It doesn’t provide users with much recourse if their video is unjustly flagged as a copyright violation even if a court might determine it falls under fair use. Disputes are referred to the rights-holder, and some video game critics raised concerns late last year that they ended up in a Sisyphean struggle over their reviews, which clearly fall under the “criticism” exception of fair use, with quibbles over such minutia as music that was licensed for use in game trailers, but not for YouTube users.
Ultimately, however, these issues represent not a problem with Content ID, but with the legal copyright regime it is required to enforce. While that fight is still in progress, these sorts of market-oriented compromises at least allow access to art that otherwise would be strangled by short-sighted rights-holders who don’t always see the financial rewards right in front of them.