Lawmakers Press Google, YouTube On Making Anti-Piracy Tool Available To Wider Range Of Content Creators

A group of lawmakers are pressing Google to make one of YouTube’s signature anti-piracy features available to a greater number of creators of copyrighted content.

Earlier this month, a dozen Capitol Hill lawmakers led by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-TN) sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki asking them if they have considered making its Content ID more widely available, and whether they would also publish the criteria they consider for eligibility to use the service.

YouTube’s Content ID is used by movie studios, record labels and rights collection societies as a way to automatically spot infringing content, but indie companies, like Millennium Media, have been denied access to the anti-piracy tool.

Content ID works using a database of digital “fingerprints” of major copyrighted works that are then compared to a user’s uploads. Copyright holders are notified when an upload contains their works, and then have the option of blocking the unauthorized video or try to monetize the video by running ads against it or to monitor its web traffic. Some 9,000 entities now use the system.

Google had no comment on the letter, but the lawmakers gave them until March 6 to respond.

But Content ID is intended to be used “for those who own exclusive rights to a large amount of original content (like a record label or a movie studio), are submitting a high number of complete and valid takedown requests, and are able to dedicate the resources needed to manage it,” according to YouTube. Smaller rights holders can also go through a third-party service for a fee, according to YouTube.

Still, YouTube express caution that Content ID has the potential to be misused as it is a tool that automatically blocks content. “Even unintentional misuse of Content ID can have serious consequences for YouTube and creators. It comes with complicated controls that require ongoing management and a high-level understanding of copyright,” the company said.

Last fall, Tillis and other lawmakers wrote to Google and YouTube with concerns that “copyright holders with smaller catalogs of works cannot utilize Content ID, making it more difficult or impossible for them to effectively protect their copyrighted works from infringement and, ultimately, impacting their livelihoods.

“We have heard from copyright holders who have been denied access to Content ID tools, and as a result, are at a significant disadvantage to prevent the repeated uploading of content that they have previously identified as infringing,” Tillis wrote. He wrote that the copyright holders are “left with the choice of spending hours each week seeking out and sending notices of those same copyrighted works, or allowing their intellectual property to be misappropriated.”

That letter was followed by a Capitol Hill roundtable in December that included three content creators — Direct Cinema’s Mitchell Block, musician Maria Schneider and Millennium Media’s Jonathan Yunger — along with Ruth Vitale, the CEO the CreativeFuture, who argued that Content ID could be made available to more content creators or that their other copyright tools could be more effective. Representatives from Google and YouTube, meanwhile, outlined Content ID as well as other options for copyright holders, including a “Copyright Match” tool that locates full uploads of potentially infringing videos but involves contacting each uploader to take it down.

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