A Visit From the Copyright Trolls: How Rumblefish & Google Monetize Other People’s Property

The video in question

Every October we take a little bike ride down the Big Sur Coast from Carmel to Morro Bay. Back in 2009 we posted a link to a YouTube video we made of that year’s ride. Here’s how we described it at the time:

We use our point & shoot camera to take a fuzzy video of an October 10, 2009 bike ride from Carmel to Morro Bay, add some irritating copyright-free music and post it on the Internet.

Our description of the music as “copyright free” was not actually correct. We used sound samples from Apple’s iMovie to which Apple holds the copyright. Apple permits iMovie users, such as ourselves, to use these samples royalty-free.

Perhaps understandably, given our less than ringing endorsement of this video, not many of you ever clicked through to see it. To date, it’s been viewed only a little over 200 times.

We’d pretty much forgotten about it, actually, until we received an email last week from YouTube informing us that:

Your video “Bicycle Ride – Carmel to Morro Bay“, may have content that is owned or licensed by rumblefish, but it’s still available on YouTube! In some cases, ads may appear next to it.

This claim is not penalizing your account status. Visit your Copyright Notice page for more details on the policy applied to your video.

Sincerely,
– The YouTube Team

Curious, we visited the Copyright Notice page and found that we were being accused of including the copyrighted content “Sjofn Weisner-Hey Ho sound recording administered by rumblefish.”

We found that it was possible to dispute this claim and went through the process to do so; explaining that the copyright holder was, in fact, Apple and that we did, in fact, have Apple’s express written permission to use this content. More than once during this process, YouTube attempted to discourage us from filing the dispute, warning that it could result in termination of our account.

Two days later we received another email from YouTube informing us that:

rumblefish has reviewed your dispute and released its copyright claim on your video, “Bicycle Ride – Carmel to Morro Bay“.

So, in the end, getting this resolved cost us only five to ten minutes of hassle. No big deal.

But how could it possibly happen that Rumblefish would, even accidentally, think they owned the copyright to an iMovie sample? A sample that has doubtlessly been used in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of other YouTube videos? It’s not like this was some obscure clip that might be mistaken for something else.

The answer is that Google (which owns YouTube) has set up something they call their Content ID system. Major music rights holders, like Rumblefish, upload everything they want to claim copyright on into this system, and the system scans every video on YouTube looking for matches. When a match is found, an email, like the one we received, is automatically launched.

Note what the email says. Your video will stay up, but “ads may appear next to it.” In other words, whenever Content ID finds a match, Google and Rumblefish will proceed to monetize the video in question by placing ads on it. All revenue to be divided between Google and Rumblefish. The only way to prevent this from happening is to file a dispute, which they actively discourage you from doing.

So let’s say you decide to make a completely baseless and outrageous claim to copyright on one of the most commonly used royalty-free sound clips in the YouTube universe. The result will be that thousands of video owners will dispute your claim. No big deal, you simply release your claims over those videos, and go ahead and start cashing in on the thousands of other videos whose owners either don’t care or are too intimidated by the process to fight you.

Now you might think the host service would stick up for its users and crack down on your outrageous abuse of the copyright system. But no worries. Since they’ll be sharing in your ad revenue, it’s in their interest to look the other way.

What a dynamic new hi-tech business model!

Click here to read about Content ID declaring ambient birdsongs a violation of Rumblefish copyrights – and Rumblefish actually confirming the claim.

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3 Responses to A Visit From the Copyright Trolls: How Rumblefish & Google Monetize Other People’s Property

  1. Luana says:

    Why didn’t I think of that? How to make money out of thin air.

  2. lowestofthekeys says:

    I had the same thing happen after I used a public domain version of Robert Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.

    Frankly, I’m tired of these businesses bending over backwards for companies like Rumblefish. Google needs to grow a pair.

  3. bigsurkate says:

    Oh, what a legal web we weave … When first we practice to deceive…

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