YouTube's ContentID Trolls: Claim Copyright On Lots Of Gameplay Videos, Hope No One Complains, Collect Free Money [Updated]
from the a-system-that-protects-rights-holders,-even-if-they-don't-hold-the-rights dept
UPDATE: Direct from Abbi Tatton at Google:
From his post: "An entity going the vague but all-encompassing name of "Music Publishing Rights Collecting Society" has made a number of claims on various uploads."Odd things have been happening over at Youtube this month, affecting gamers uploading "Let's Play" videos. Well, not so much "odd" as "annoying" and "clearly abusive of Youtube's copyright notification system."
That's not an entity. If YouTube generated that message it's because Content ID identified compositions in the upload to which a portion of the rights may be administered by any one of a number of collecting societies. Our message in these cases now reads "one or more music publishing rights collecting societies" to make this clearer -- that Facebook parody page doesn't help though. Help Center Page is here with the details.
Early in February, the name "Agora Aggregator" began popping at various internet locations, like Reddit's r/LetsPlay and Google's product forums. This entity is apparently casting a porous copyright dragnet over a wide selection of gameplay videos, ranging from Super Meat Boy to F.E.A.R. 3, with several stops in between (Max Payne 3, Far Cry 3, I Am Alive, The Walking Dead).
Now, trying to track down Agora Aggregator is an exercise in futility. It very likely doesn't exist outside of Youtube. It's a name that sounds vague enough to be credible but not specific enough to step on any existing company's toes. Here's the general M.O.:
Agora files a claim on a gameplay video, but not the entire video or even a large portion of it. Instead, it files for certain "visual content" located at random points in the upload. The uploader is then notified of Agora's claim. If the uploader challenges the claim, Agora immediately drops it. If it goes ignored, Agora is then given this credit in the About section:
Now that Agora has a "hook" in the video, all it has to do is choose the "monetize" option that Youtube provides, sit back and wait for the video to get views, with a big chunk of the money going to Agora. The reality of the situation is one of annoyance, rather than actual harm, in most cases. The other unfortunate reality is that this sort of low-level trolling on gameplay videos is nothing new. "Companies" using the names IMG Media UK, INgroove, and Netcom have also filed bogus claims in the past.
The bad news is this sort of thing will probably always exist, especially in the case of gameplay videos. Gameplay videos exist in a legal gray area. For the most part, game companies are more than happy to let these serve as free advertising, knowing that watching a video can hardly replace the experience of actually playing the game. (One exception that proves the rule: Sega's massive takedown of anything "Shining Force"-related in "preparation" for the release of a new game in the series.) Some companies even allow uploaders to monetize gameplay videos, provided a portion of the earnings flows back to the developer.
Because of this gray area, many gamers will feel they can't challenge Agora's claim since they themselves do not "own" what they've uploaded. Even if it seems dubious and faintly scammy, the slim possibility that Agora actually exists and has a legitimate claim is enough to deter them from disputing it.
This isn't limited solely to video game footage. An entity going the vague but all-encompassing name of "Music Publishing Rights Collecting Society" has made a number of claims on various uploads. Here's its bio (in full) from its "official" website, which is a Facebook page. (The URL listed on its Facebook page sends you to... MPRCS's Facebook page.)
"Our mission is to file copyright claims so that ads will be placed onto certain videos, and we will be able to make money off of them. We do not seek to have anyone's videos blocked in certain countries or disabled altogether, all we are trying to do is make a bit of money. That's not so bad, is it?"Sure, it's better than getting videos blocked or disabled, but take a close look at the wording it uses. It pretty much states exactly what it's going to do (make money off the uploads of others), all without feeling the need to demonstrate that it actually has a right to file these claims. There is no other URL for this "company," no list of artists/labels it represents and it has in the past claimed content it clearly has no right to.
They identified my (completely original) song as infringing the copyright of a completely different song that I had never heard of, that I had to search google for, which turned out to be some kind of trance remix of a completely unrelated song…Wtf?Much like Agora Aggregator, MPRCS immediately backs down if challenged. Despite the fact that there's clearly something shady going on, MPRCS sounds ambiguously "official" enough that even Youtube itself makes statements in its defense.
I immediately disputed the claim and received an email from Youtube saying:
Music Publishing Rights Collecting Society has reviewed your dispute and released its copyright claim on your video, “Sonic Sunset No.2“.” (shameless plug)
So how do collecting societies affect you as a YouTube user? If you’ve ever received a notice indicating that one of your videos may include copyrighted content administered by "Music Publishing Rights Collecting Society," or “one or more music publishing rights collecting societies,” it means that YouTube's Content ID system identified one or more musical compositions within your video to which a portion of the rights may be administered by a collecting society.While this information may be true (as Youtube states it), it is highly unlikely that the "Music Publishing Rights Collecting Society" is truly representing anyone but the person who lucked into this low-level abuse of Youtube's copyright claim system. One more strike against this so-called "Collecting Society?" Its profile photo is a watermarked Shutterstock picture.
Even if Agora Aggregator goes down, and Digital Minds Entertainment follows, more will pop up to take their place. The system (such as it is) seems to have the success rate of an untargeted mass mailing -- low enough to be almost negligible, but still high enough to make it a worthwhile venture.
Youtube can't do much to prevent this abuse. It has to err on the side of the rights holders, even if the rights holders don't actually hold the rights. This is a necessity. It allows it to show it takes proactive steps against infringement, a requirement in order to benefit from the Safe Harbor protections. The other issue is the massive volume it deals with -- 72 hours uploaded every minute -- which makes it impossible to police uploads with any level of detail. The system is exploitable, and the people behind these "companies" know it.
Since it can't be stopped, the only method left to battle these trolling "companies" is to expose them as quickly (and loudly) as possible. This is only a stopgap, rather than a solution. What's happening now is mostly an annoyance. The real problems will develop later when uploaders being challenging legitimate claims, assuming them to be invalid, and have their accounts closed down. In essence, Agora (and others) are the boy who cried wolf. Only this time, when the real wolf arrives, it will be the townspeople that suffer.