On Thursday, July 2, 2020, Grammy award-winning composer and musician Maria Schneider filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, against YouTube, LLC, Google, LLC, and Alphabet, Inc. The lawsuit concerns copyright piracy on YouTube and alleges that YouTube’s copyright management tool, Content ID, “actually insulates the vast majority of known and repeated copyright infringers from YouTube’s repeat infringer policy” and leaves plaintiffs in the class with “no meaningful ability to police the extensive infringement of their copyrighted work.” The complaint requests, among other things, equitable relief in the form of providing Content ID to all copyright owners and monetary relief in the form of defendants’ profits derived from copyright infringement on YouTube.
YouTube’s Content ID is a copyright management tool that uses “digital fingerprint[s to] compare videos being uploaded on YouTube to a catalogue of copyrighted material submitted by those entities permitted to utilize Content ID.” After a YouTube video is flagged by Content ID, the participating rights owners are able to decide how to handle the infringement: (1) the infringing video can be blocked from being viewed; (2) the infringing video can be monetized by running ads against the video, with some cases of monetization sharing revenue with the infringing uploader; or (3) the rights owner can track the infringing video’s viewership statistics. The copyright management tool is only provided to the larger rights owners and distributors in the music industry. According to the complaint, only five percent or less of all applicants who apply for Content ID are approved.
Smaller rights holders, such as Schneider and the plaintiffs in the class, “are relegated to vastly inferior and time-consuming manual means of trying to police and manage their copyrights such as scanning the entirety of YouTube postings, searching for keywords, titles, and other potential identifiers.” After finding an infringing video, smaller rights holders must file individual takedown notices as outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). The complaint alleges that YouTube has “created a two-tiered system whereby the rights of large creators with the resources to take Defendants to court on their own are protected, while smaller and independent creators like Plaintiffs and the Class are deliberately left out in the cold.”
The complaint states that YouTube has “completely divorced their Content ID system from their legally mandated repeat-infringer policy.” YouTube utilizes the safer harbor provisions of the DMCA by issuing a “copyright strike” against infringing uploaders when ordinary rights holders file takedown notices and by terminating infringing uploaders after an individual uploader accrues three active copyright strikes within 90 days. However, YouTube does not issue copyright strikes against infringing content identified by Content ID. “This two-tiered system essentially trains YouTube’s billions of uploading users that there is essentially minimal risk to uploading to their hearts’ content.” The complaint further alleges that YouTube has forfeited its claim to the DMCA safe harbor protections because rights holders who actively seek to enforce copyrights “by filing numerous takedown notices run the risk of losing access to YouTube’s rudimentary tools purportedly designed to facilitate the takedown notification process. Moreover, Defendants arbitrarily limit the number of takedown notices they will process from rights holders.”
YouTube has more than 2 billion users worldwide every month, with users watching more than one billion hours of videos every day. By YouTube’s estimate, more than 720,000 hours of videos are uploaded every day. $15 billion in revenue is generated from advertising on YouTube.
YouTube sued for not making Content ID more widely available to independent music-makers, Complete Music Update (July 3, 2020)
Schneider et al v. YouTube, LLC et al (Case No. 5:2020cv04423)
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