A 2021 Guide to Music Licensing and Content ID

What is YouTube‘s Content ID Program?

Content ID (CID) is a music digital fingerprinting and monetization service for YouTube. This system uses audio recognition to issue automated copyright claims for music in videos uploaded to YouTube. In theory, it’s a great concept to prevent unauthorized usage of music. Unfortunately, it’s far from perfect and conflicts with many types of music licensing. We thought a guide to YouTube Content ID as it pertains to music licensing would be valuable for music creators.

How Does Music Get Into Content ID?

Music does not get registered in CID by simply uploading it to YouTube in a video. Registering music in CID is generally done via a 3rd party service via one of the following three methods:

1. Music Distributor OPT-IN Option

It’s quite common for artists and labels to use companies such as CDBaby, TuneCore, DistroKid etc. to get their music on streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes Music etc. It’s important to note that having your music with these distributors or streaming services is not a conflict and it does not mean your music is in the Content ID system. What you need to look out for, is a YouTube monetization OPT-IN option within these services, and make sure you do not Opt-In if you don’t want to risk licensing conflicts. They may have messaging such as “Monetize your music on YouTube” or something similar. This is generally how your music could end up in the Content-ID system.

2. Through a dedicated Content ID Partner Platform

Another method that music owners enter music into the CID system, is directly through dedicated Content ID partner platforms. These include companies like AdRev or Identifyy. The main purpose of these companies is to enter your music into the YouTube Content ID system.

3. Shady music licensing companies enter your music into the Content ID without you knowing

We are seeing more and more of this. An artist has their music in several music licensing companies, and one of these companies enters this artist’s music into the Content ID without the artist knowing. This will then cause copyright claims to occur for all the other licensing companies that license this artist’s music. Always ask libraries that you work with if they enter music in Content ID before signing with them.

4. False Positive / Bad Detection

YouTube’s Content ID audio recognition system is far from perfect. It’s quite common for claim detections to be flat out wrong. Here is a common example of a false positive we experience often:

Composer-A uses a certain drum loop from a commercially available loop pack in their song that is played by itself for the intro of the song. Composer-B uses the same drum loop as a transition into the bridge of their song.

Composer-A registers their song in the Content ID program. Composer-B uploads their song to a licensing company who then licenses the song to Client-A for their YouTube video. When Client-A uploads their video to YouTube, the video gets a copyright claim. Why???

Composer-B never registered their song in Content ID! Here’s why.

When Composer-A registers and uploads their song to Content ID, YouTube scans and fingerprints it. When Client-A uploads their video with Composer-B’s song, YouTube’s audio recognition matches the audio to Composer-A’s song and makes a claim.

The exposed drum loop in Composer-A’s intro matched the exposed drum loop in Composer-Bs transition to the bridge. Both composers receive copyright claims when a 3rd party uploads a video with either song. This happens even though both composers purchase this loop, and abide by the proper uses of the loop. Weird, right?

Any claims for Composer-Bs song are considered a false positive and create music licensing issues. What a pain!

Music Studio

How is Content ID Problematic for Music Licensing?

YouTube explicitly states in it’s user agreement that only music with exclusive rights should be registered in Content ID. Once you enter your music into Content ID, it will automatically initiate copyright claims for anyone that uploads a video containing your music.

The only way to prevent these claims is if the owner whitelists the YouTube channel for that particular usage in advance. Sounds great no? Well not if you use music licensing services to get your licensing placements.

The problem is, there is no way for you (the composer) to know in advance which client channels to whitelist, when you aren’t the one issuing the music licenses. For this reason, non-exclusive licensing is problematic in Content ID when several companies are licensing the same music. Even exclusive music is problematic when the licensor does not control Content ID claims.

What does this mean for clients who legitimately pay to license your music?

They will get a copyright claim immediately upon uploading their video containing your music to YouTube. This is not something that makes clients happy, that’s for sure! It also doesn’t help our business when clients call and yell at us for getting copyright claims after legitimately licensing music from us.

These automated copyright claims also override the client’s ability to monetize their own videos. This results in triggering ads to play on their videos. If a licensed video creator disputes a CID claim on YouTube, they must go through a lengthy dispute process to lift these claims. Only then can they can properly use the music they legally licensed. However, they shall receive a permanent copyright strike if rejected. If they get 3 strikes, their entire YouTube channel will permanently be deleted.

Our Policy on Content ID

As music licensors at soundscape.io. Due to these inherent incompatibilities CID fingerprinting has with music licensing; we are working towards offering our clients a 100% claim-free experience.

We no longer accept music registered in the Content ID program, as of 2021. Now, we continue to educate our artists to understand the associated implications.

What if you don’t know if your music is in Content ID?

It’s important to definitively know if your music is in the CID system. It could get you booted out of libraries or lead to legal issues if you misrepresent your music. We encourage our artists to reach out to licensing companies they work with. Request confirmation that their music hasn’t been entered into the CID system. Also, they can reach out to their music distribution companies that release their music to Spotify, Apple Music etc., and confirm this as well.

Often these companies will say things like “Make money from YouTube” or “Monetize your music on YouTube”, or similar language to entice artists to Opt Into this program. What they don’t mention is how this could negatively affect your music licensing efforts.

Here’s a handy trick to find out if your music is in CID, and who put it there.

Make a long video containing all of your music and upload it to YouTube yourself. If you get copyright claims on this video by YouTube, it means your music is registered to CID by a third party.

Check the claim to see which company initiated it (the claimant), and contact them for more info. If you didn’t knowingly authorize this, request to Opt Out of CID.

Keep in mind that it takes 2 weeks for YouTube to do a full CID deep scan of your video & music. So even though some claims may appear within an hour or so of your upload to YouTube, some new claims may pop-up within the next couple of weeks as well.

Keep an eye on your YouTube account to see if new claims appear. If a fraudulent user registers your song in Content ID, a claim will appear on an already uploaded video.

Does Content ID Protect My Music from Theft?

We often hear from composers who say they register their music in Content ID so that thieves don’t fraudulently register their music in Content ID. This is a misconception.

While Content ID does offer certain protections for your music, registering your music in Content ID does not prevent thieves from registering the same music fraudulently. It’s possibly for multiple users to register the same song in Content ID and claim the same song.

Use the technique outlined above and upload a video to YouTube with all your music to see if your song is being claimed by fraudulent thieves.

In Conclusion

This is more than an irritation for clients. It can lead to lost monetization revenue and even cause legal conflicts. Clients pay to legally license music. They expect not to be put at risk of getting copyright strikes and having their YouTube channel permanently deleted.

We know how much work goes into making music. So make sure to protect your interests and do your diligence. Know what’s going on with your music. Ensure access to the most opportunities and a long-term sustainable career in music.

Next see our blog on How to Write Music That Gets Licensed – Pro Tips.

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