Is YouTube's Content ID System Leading To False Copyright Claims?

We’ve heard the stories about people’s YouTube videos being tagged for copyright violations because someone in the background is playing a song that’s recognizable to some automated system that scans online videos. But certainly no one can come after you for the barely audible sound of birds, right?

On a YouTube help forum, the man who posted the video below of a dandelion-gathering session writes:

I posted a video which is basically just me walking and talking, outdoors, away from any possible source of music.

And apparently youtube identified my video as containing copyrighted music from a company called rumblefish. I filed a dispute, and now I’m waiting for said company to respond to it. Is this a freak occurrence? I feel pretty violated by this, a mysterious entity claiming to own my content and apparently profiting from it with ads.

But it’s not just bird sounds, and it’s not just Rumblefish. The poster of this video says he received a notice that the sound of his motorcycle was copyrighted.

And the person who posted this video of their trip to Pt. Reyes was flagged because Google’s Content ID system flagged the sound of ocean waves (at around 9:35 in the video) as being copyrighted. The video poster admits the wave sounds were added afterward, but that the sound file was a Garage Band file that users are free to do with as they please — and it certainly wasn’t the sound that YouTube claimed to have found and is now linking to on the video’s page.

The Content ID system works by rights holders handing over reference files for Google and YouTube to use for comparison to uploaded videos. When YouTube’s rather generous scanning system flags content as being close enough to the reference file, the rights holders can either block the video or make money off of it from placing an ad in the clip.

So it would be quite easy for a company to upload a ton of small files of nature sounds — or any other common background noise — that they hold the rights to, and hope that the Content ID system finds something similar on a person’s video.

And of course YouTube automatically sides with the alleged rights holder in these cases rather than giving users any benefit of a doubt.

Some users have pointed out that in spite of the numerous complaints about its flaws and overzealous nature — one user claims to have made more than 100 appeals regarding birdsong-related flaggings — it’s really not in YouTube’s best financial interest to improve their system or to ferret out companies that are gaming the system by adding supposedly copyrighted background sounds into the Content ID system.

Here’s the thrilling birdsong clip that has everyone fired up. Enjoy!