YouTube should open up Content ID

10 mei 2016

YouTube has a vibrant community of professional YouTube creators: people who professionally make YouTube videos for others to enjoy. This creative community comments on news, reviews games, streams gameplay, vlogs, etc. YouTube shares the revenue of its ads with the creators. YouTube’s digital fingerprinting system, Content ID, helps to determine the amount of revenue each creator receives. Lately, Content ID has been under heavy discussion as the system seems to be used by big rights holders to overreach and break the business models of professional YouTubers. Money, however, is not the biggest problem, but the way the ownership of intellectual property is organised by Content ID is.

Content ID is YouTube’s separate database that allows YouTube to identify (parts of) videos and audio. Content ID can identify whether or not clips in their closed database are being reused on YouTube by others. Organisations and individuals can register videos when they are the worldwide rights owner of the video. However, not all videos registered at Content ID are available on YouTube. Consequently, Content ID can also be used for other purposes.

How YouTube Content ID works

The problem with YouTube Content ID

The Content ID system is a nuanced version of a copyright takedown, whereby a rights holder can remove a copyright infringing video directly. When a whole video or parts of a video are incorporated in another video – which is a common practice for many creators on YouTube – copyright owners of the original video can get those videos removed, monetised, or get monetisation blocked. Consequently, because of Content ID entire videos by professional YouTubers are taken down, or the possibility of monetisation is taken away by alleged rights holders of parts of videos that allegedly infringe their copyright. Even if the use of these clips usually seems legit using common sense++Common senseA non-legal concept about what we think is reasonable use of other material on platforms like YouTube.. The behaviour of the major rights holders has become erratic to the point that there is no longer enough economic certainty for a large group of professional YouTubers.The behaviour of the major rights holders has become erratic to the point that there is no longer enough economic certainty for a large group of professional YouTubers. While the economic argument holds true for most professional YouTubers, the underlying problem is not addressed: the lack of transparency of ownership within Content ID.


Where is The Fair Use is a Twitter campaign started by professional YouTubers, who saw their income dwindle after claims by rights holders of clips of others videos they incorporated (to comment, or illustrate a point). In reaction, they were denied the monetisation option or had the monetisation of their videos taken over. This usually concerns videos that often only use snippets of other works, in order to discuss or review them, or to educate their viewers.

YouTube has addressed the problem in a recent blogpost, announcing that it will escrow++EscrowYouTube acts as a third party and holds any income from ads until the dispute is settled. all income of a video until a copyright dispute is settled within the Content ID system. Thereby solving the problem of copyright holders to bypass US fair use and monetising non-infringing third-party videos. However, it does not solve the larger issue of ownership and permission to reuse video online.

A copyright deadlock

Imagine you find a nice clip on a blog somewhere, you want to ask permission to use this clip in your new video, but do not know ‘who to call’ to ask for permission. This information is in Content ID: YouTube’s register of alleged exclusive ownership of a lot of content. But not all of this information is viewable on YouTube. Ironically, at the moment the best way to determine the rights holder is by publishing and enticing a copyright claim through Content ID.The best way to determine the rights holder is by publishing and enticing a copyright claim through Content ID. Since the Content ID database is not public (and there is no other such grand register with information on copyright), in practice it means that the best way to find the copyright holder is by creating a ‘copyright dispute’. Content ID holds a very valuable resource for innovation for the online video world: and algorithm to (uniquely) identify parts of a video and a database of rights holders of those videos.

Jim Sterling – a professional YouTuber – calls this extreme of the broken system the copyright deadlock. He started to include clips of multiple large copyright owners, to ensure that several large publishers claim monetisation. This way, there is no way that anyone can monetise the video anymore (Content ID only allows you to eat the whole pie and not divide revenue from ads).

The copyright deadlock

A call to Open Content ID

Copyright ownership++Copyright ownershipCopyright is a national matter, When you create a video which attracts copyright, your are granted copyright per individual country in the world. Given incorporated works and this jurisdiction problem, the rights owner is not always the uploader. is not communicated on YouTube and mostly neither on other platforms. If it remains impossible to determine who is the rights holder of a video. Content ID keeps forcing people to either (allegedly) infringe copyright in order to find the rights holder, or simply not to use other people’s clip. This would be a waste of shared culture as it would make all those review videos and interesting remixes impossible.

YouTube should open up Content ID and make their register of rights holders publicly available.YouTube should open up Content ID and make their register of rights holders publicly available. Let anyone be able to create and store IDs++IDsThis is possible, see my earlier blogpost on based on identifiable aspects of a video or see IDs related to a work. Let anyone be able to contact the rights owners of a certain clip or publicly contest that ownership. This creates an innovative new possibility in using content with permission or under copyright exceptions, and create legal certainty for copyright holders and remixers alike.

Kennisland and its partner Commons Machinery are creating a platform to build an open equivalent to YouTube’s Content ID. Take a look at Help us to reinvent the wheel or convince YouTube to open up their system. Contact me at

Deze tekst heeft een Creative Commons Naamsvermelding-licentie (CC BY) en is gekopieerd van de Kennisland-website. Ga voor de volledige versie met afbeeldingen, streamers en noten naar

This text has a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) and has been copied from the Kennisland website. For a full version with images, streamers and notes go to