‘YouTube’s Copyright Mess Is Stifling Music Education’

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YouTube does its best to give copyright holders all the required tools to remove infringing material. This works, but in some cases rightsholders have little regard for fair use. This is illustrated in detail by guitarist Paul Davids who had many of his educational videos 'claimed,' sometimes for playing as little as a two-second riff.

Millions of people use YouTube to share their creations with the world, as commentary, entertainment, education, or for any other purpose they see fit.

In most cases, these videos remain online without any issues. However, for some creators, YouTube’s copyright enforcement is causing a mess, one that severely affects their day-to-day activities.

We’ve repeatedly covered problems with YouTube’s Content-ID system dating as far back as seven years ago. Most of these are the result of overbroad filters, where YouTube finds a copyright match where it shouldn’t.

However, the problems go much deeper than random ‘bot’ mistakes. Outside the Content-ID system, YouTube’s regular takedown notices are causing trouble as well. They are being used by scammers to extort people, for example, and legitimate rightsholders make plenty of mistakes too.

The stream of examples is endless and the frustration among creators is growing. This was highlighted once again this week by guitarist Paul Davids, who shares educational and informative videos to an audience of over a million subscribers.

As a guitarist, Davids likes to demonstrate his skills, explain the finer details of certain techniques, and help others in the process. In some cases, this means playing a riff or chords from popular tracks. This is how guitar teachers have operated for many decades.

While it’s totally understandable that not all copyright holders want people to cover their full songs, playing a short riff or some chords in an educational context seems harmless. 

That’s what Davids assumed as well. Increasingly, however, his work is being claimed by major music distribution companies such as Universal Music Group.

In a video highlighting the problem, Davids provides several examples. Last month he had a new record with 15 new claims in an hour, apparently from “someone” who manually flagged his video.

The guitarist lists several examples of videos that were claimed after he played riffs as brief as two seconds. This includes a video about a riff from the track Neon by John Mayer, which is now demonetized, despite being a fairly obvious case of fair use.

“I never played one note from an original recording it’s just me talking about a little riff and not even the entire song. It’s just a five-second riff. I’m talking about researching it, dissecting it, explaining how it works, why it is difficult,” Davids notes.

“So we can’t analyze a song anymore on YouTube. Even if you look at the notes from the song your shit is getting claimed. Let alone try to play it for a little bit,” he adds.

Davids notes that all of his most popular videos, some with several million views, have now been ‘claimed.’ The music companies targeting them are happily taking his money, but meanwhile, educating future generations on the art of playing guitar has become harder and harder.

“There goes an age-old tradition of learning guitar because when I’m trying to teach you a song, Universal Music Group deserves all the ***king credit and money for it. All of it,” Davids says.

In the video, Davids talks to fellow musician and teacher Adam Neely, who has experienced the stifling effect of YouTube copyright claims as well. Apparently, Universal Music Group took offense to his MIDI recording of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”

“I can’t show any aspect of the composition of Single Ladies. Basically what that means is, I can’t show any sheet music, I can’t do any sort of MIDI recreation of the song, because in their eyes that’s a cover of the song, which is absolutely ridiculous,” Neely says.

Like Davids, Neely was not playing a cover. He used a MIDI recreation of a part of the song, to explain what the interesting aspects are. The video is part of a larger Q&A which is clearly labeled as “educational.”

Neely believes that artists should be compensated for real covers, but the examples referenced here are far from that.

“Somebody literally just clicked my video, saw that I was talking about Single Ladies, and said no, we own all of your money. That’s how easy it is, which is crazy,” Neely notes.


Whatever the claimants’ precise reasons, it is clear that a fair use defense is pretty reasonable here. The problem, however, is that YouTube generally doesn’t take that into account.

Yes, copyright claims can be appealed. And if channel owners appeal long enough their video is eventually restored. However, that process is not without risk.

First off, a takedown notice will result in a YouTube strike which, after three warnings, may cause the owner of a channel to lose his account. Similarly, if they keep appealing they risk being sued, which isn’t a very welcome outlook either.

In the video, Davids mentions that there is “nothing you can do” against these claims. While he realizes that there are options now, he tells TorrentFreak that he’s not interested in taking the matter to court.

“The last thing I want is to get wound up in a legal process that takes up all my time,” Davids says.

In other words, on paper YouTubers can ensure that their video is reinstated, but the risk is seen as too high, so they tend to avoid the process.

The alternative, which is what many YouTubers opt for, is to avoid triggering any copyright claims. This obviously has an impact on their creativity and how they educate the public, which doesn’t seem fair.

What’s also unfair is the fact that Davids received a claim on a video of a backing track he created himself years ago. Apparently, someone copied that from him and passed it on to someone else as an original recording.  This led to a pretty bizarre confrontation, illustrated in detail in the video.

The question that remains is, how can this all be fixed? Davids suggests that YouTube could create a whitelist for channels with good standing, something we’ve also mentioned in the past. At the very least, the company could take a good look at its policies and systems to see if clear abuse can be addressed and prevented.


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