You’ve put hours of work into a video, maybe even days. You’re finally ready for the world to see your creation. You upload it to your YouTube channel, glad that the tension is finally over … and YouTube flags your work with a Content ID notice.
If you’ve ever been frustrated by YouTube’s Content ID system, you’re not alone. Here, we’ll dig into how the system works, how it differs from other tools YouTube uses to monitor copyright and what video creators can do to manage these notices effectively.
Creating your own music or soundtracks for videos? Check out our YouTube Content ID explainer for musicians, too.

How Content ID Works (and Why It Flagged Your Video)

When a video is uploaded to YouTube, the site’s system automatically examines its audio and video to see whether it matches another video that’s already on YouTube. If it does, YouTube sends a notice to the uploader — and, if the video is registered with the Content ID system, to the administrator of the matching content, as well.
Your video may or may not be taken down due to a Content ID notice. According to YouTube, owners registered with the system can choose whether matching videos are unviewable until the claim is resolved or whether something else happens, such as monetizing the video with ads while the claim is reviewed.
While this system isn’t always perfect, it has improved over time. Originally, the Content ID system automatically rerouted ad revenue to the person who originally registered the content, leaving video creators penniless until the claim was resolved in their favor, according to Forbes’s Paul Tassi.
In 2016, Allegra Frank at Polygon writes, YouTube opted for a model that holds ad revenue on disputed videos until the dispute is resolved, then pays whichever party wins the dispute.
Still, it’s worth responding promptly to a Content ID notice. Here’s how.

What to Do With a Content ID Notice

YouTube gives video creators 30 days to dispute a Content ID claim. You can find and respond to these claims by logging in to YouTube and checking the Copyright Notices page, which is located in the Creator Studio under Video Manager.
When you address a Content ID claim, you have several options:

  • Dispute the claim. If you purchased rights to the content, if the content is in the public domain, or if you believe the Content ID system flagged your video in error, you can dispute the Content ID claim. Submit a copy of your license to use the content, via a YouTube form, and be as detailed as possible. For example, “I have purchased a small business license from Audiosocket, license attached,” is better than “I have a license.”
  • Edit the video. YouTube provides free-to-use music that can be swapped in for claimed music. You can also choose to edit the video on your own to remove matching content.
  • Share revenue. If the owner of the matching content has opted for revenue-sharing, this option will appear in your Content ID notice, as well. Revenue-sharing splits the ad revenue between you and the original owner, according to a predetermined formula.
  • Remove the music. YouTube has a mechanism for removing the music in a video without having to remove and re-upload the video. If a Content ID claim is based on background music, you may wish to use this option.
  • Do nothing. You can also choose to do nothing with a Content ID claim.

The notice may contain one or more links that read Play Match. These links will show the parts of the video or audio that have been claimed by another party. If you decide to edit the video to remove matching content, the links can help you determine what needs to be changed.
Disputing a claim can be valuable not only when you have a license, but also when the matches in question are examples of fair use under copyright law. One classic example, noted by Videorooter, is that of Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig’s “Open,” a video that uses parts of the song “Lisztomania” as an educational example of fair use. YouTube’s Content ID system flagged the video, prompting Lessig to arrange with the song’s owner, Liberation Music, for its use.
Sometimes, the Content ID system produces truly bizarre results. Because the system compares the audio of every new video to all existing videos, even sounds that can’t be copyrighted can give rise to a notice. For instance, Rachel Kaser at TNW reported a situation in which “white noise” videos started getting flagged for being “too similar” to existing white noise videos.

Ways to Avoid Content ID Notices (and the Delays They Cause)

As of 2016, YouTube had paid out more than $2 billion to content creators via the Content ID system, according to Sarah Hamedy at Mashable. And while the system’s method of handling revenues has improved, video content creators still find their work hampered from time to time by the way Content ID works.
How can you help your own work avoid Content ID delays? Consider these options.

  • Understand the basics of copyright and fair use. Stating “I do not own the copyright to this music” isn’t enough to absolve you of a copyright claim or a Content ID notice in most cases, notes Garbis Law LLC‘s Anastasios Garbis at Law Technology Today. Knowing what is and is not fair use, however, can help you make better choices about how you use music or sound clips in a video.
  • Look for free-to-use options. YouTube’s free-to-use music offers a way to prevent or solve Content ID issues, as do many public domain options.
  • Buy a license. A license is permission from the music’s copyright owner to use that music in certain ways. Depending on the music, a license may cost as much as half a million dollars or as little as a couple of dollars, Mashable’s Samuel Axon reports. Licensing companies can be so helpful here, navigating legal complexities and expediting the release of claims when needed.
  • Publish privately first. YouTube recommends publishing your video set to “private” first, allowing you to sort any Content ID claims in advance of going public with your video.
  • Be the creator. Creating your own music or working with a composer to create a work for hire whose copyright you control puts you in the position of originator. It may even allow you to register your own videos with Content ID, which allows you to control the initial response to any future videos that match yours.

Finally, it’s helpful to understand YouTube’s range of tools for copyright questions. The Content ID system isn’t the only way YouTube handles copyright, royalties and related issues in the music business.
For instance, a Content ID notice is handled differently than a copyright strike. Think of a Content ID notice as a question: “These seem to match. What’s going on here?” A YouTube copyright strike, by contrast, has answered the question and now says, “Hey, this is a violation.”
Stay on top of news regarding YouTube’s copyright handling, as well, as the site’s recent changes focus heavily on music and musical artists.
In January 2018, Colin Stutz at Billboard noted that YouTube planned to start identifying original music artists and to start requesting and issuing International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) codes as an official ISNI registration site. ISNI codes, like ISBNs for books, give each work a unique worldwide identifier used to help track everything from sales and shares to royalty payments.
Content ID isn’t the end of your work on YouTube, but it can slow down the process of sharing your vision with the world. Understanding it can help you use the system in your favor.
images by: Wesley Tingey, Glenn Carstens-Peters, ShareGrid

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