As the world’s biggest video sharing platform, Youtube allows users to create, broadcast and share their work. Content owners may also find their work is adopted and shared via Youtube without their authorisation and, while this raises major questions around copyright infringement, there may be benefits to someone using your content in this way.
Google, which acquired Youtube in 2006, has faced a lot of criticism over its policies on copyright infringement, and for not doing enough to fight piracy. The company has been involved in a number of high-profile lawsuits including a landmark lawsuit between Google and Viacom which was finally settled in 2014 after sevens years. Viacom accused Google of allowing thousands of its programmes to be posted on its video platform without permission and gained support from big industry names including Associated Press, The National Football League and the Motion Picture Association of America. However Viacom’s argument that Youtube should monitor the content of videos being uploaded at a rate of more than 24 hours per minute was rejected. In the end Google and Youtube were deemed to be protected by the “safe harbour” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This 1998 U.S. law limits the liability of websites if they remove content when notified of potential copyright infringements.
This leaves it up to the rightsholders to issue DMCA takedown notices for any copyright-protected work posted on Youtube without authorization. While users are asked to confirm that they are not breaking any copyright laws when uploading videos, Youtube does not actually view video content before it is posted, meaning it is easy for unauthorized content to end up online. Given the sheer volume of material posted on Youtube, around 400 hours of uploaded content per minute, it can be difficult to for content owners to monitor unauthorized use of their work but Youtube’s Content ID system is intended to make it easier. More than 5,000 companies are using the programme in which videos uploaded are scanned against a database of files. If a match is found, the content owner can have the video blocked and removed, or can monetize the content by allowing ads to be sold against it and track viewing stats.
According to a report published by Google earlier this year, the Content ID system has so far generated $2 billion for its partners since it was launched in 2007. But the benefits of someone using unauthorised content on Youtube go beyond revenue streams. Increased exposure and sharing via Youtube can generate interest in an artist, show or brand and boost audience figures.
Fremantle Media, which produces The X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, has 160 channels on Youtube and has actually started using clips uploaded by viewers to its benefit. In an article with the Financial Times, the media group’s senior vice-president Olivier Delfosse said “We monetize almost all of our fan-uploaded content... it’s become a significant revenue stream for us” adding that it had become a ‘core part’ of the company’s digital business. In one example the company uploaded a clip of a young homeless man singing on Korea’s Got Talent which racked up 5 million views on Youtube. Another Youtube user then uploaded the same clip with English subtitles and generated over 168 million views. “That was a fan teaching us what fans want”, added Delfosse.
Movie studios are also starting to tap into Youtube’s creative community as they diversify and develop the way movies are marketed through online and social media. When Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures wanted to get everyone talking about the new Godzilla movie they partnered with Youtube and invited content creators to shoot videos on the Godzilla movie set. They even provided the original movie props and costumes and asked those involved to upload their videos to Youtube to ‘generate buzz’ around the new movie. Companies such as Squared points helped copyright oweners to capitalize on this 'sharing and buzz' generation.
And while Youtube seems to be constantly in conflict with artists and music labels, it can also be an essential tool to the music industry's growth. In an official blog for Midem - a leading music industry event - Rebecca Lammers, CEO and founder of Laniakea Music, wrote that not enough credit was being given to Youtube or their Content ID system for all that it is doing to help the music industry. Not only had they made it easier to claim user-generated content but it was a major source of revenue - for some artists up to 90% of money generated from Youtube was from user-generated content according to Lammers. Swizz based music start-up iMusician outlines additional benefits of Youtube to the music industry stating that it allows for low-cost direct marketing to existing fans and exposure to new fans Some music groups are even utilizing the platform to help launch the careers of new artists, Universal Music Group are already doing this having partnered with music entrepreneurs to discover the next big Youtube star.
With over 1 billion visitors every month consuming over 6 billion hours worth of content, embracing Youtube and the way content is shared can offer potential sources of revenue and increased exposure for content owners. It can allow content creators to share and build their brand. However musicians, artists and movie studios, amongst other industries, also have to be aware of how unauthorized sharing can damage their brand and increase their vulnerability to movie and music piracy through illegal downloads and streaming.