YouTube’s Innovative Content ID is No Substitute For Humankind’s Greatest Gift

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YouTube has made massive strides towards solving millions of copyright claims that plague its platform. The automated Content ID system is by no means perfect but does provide a way for rightsholders and alleged infringers to amicably settle their differences. What it doesn't have is the human ability to spot opportunities for cooperation and innovation. Sadly, humans can struggle with that too.

agreementCopyright infringement disputes come in many shapes and sizes. They can be entirely justified, cynically malicious but, in most cases, utterly frustrating for at least one of the parties.

What is rare, however, is for a copyright infringement dispute to have an air of sadness, especially when that affects both sides, albeit in different ways. I’m referring to the hugely controversial battle between Toei Animation and popular YouTuber Totally Not Mark we reported early December.

A short summary: Manga/anime fanatic Mark Fitzpatrick makes high-quality reviews and posts them on YouTube. To date, his channel has received nearly 40 million views. Just recently, Japanese company Toei Animation used Content ID to remove around 150 of his videos claiming that the use of Toei clips infringed their copyrights.

Mark believes his work is allowed under fair use but that didn’t seem important to Toei. It was important to many of Mark’s fans though, and with huge numbers flooding to social media to call for a Toei boycott, the situation had already spiraled out of control. Against this backdrop and Toei’s apparent refusal to discuss the matter, Mark posted videos that were conciliatory but were perceived by some to have counterproductive undertones.

This caused yet more conflict on social media with mud thrown at Toei, YouTube, Mark, and anyone else who dared to come out in support of any one of them at the wrong time or in the wrong way. It looked more like a bitter feud between mortal enemies than the usual celebrations of what manga and anime fans have in common. A quick search on Twitter today reveals that the conflict is sadly still ongoing.

The aim of this article isn’t to discuss the merits or failures of Content ID. Neither does it seek to provide an in-depth analysis of whether Mark’s fair use claims stand up. Or indeed whether Toei had the right to do what it did which, intended or not, seems to have seriously damaged Mark’s ability to earn a living.

The point is that by agreeing to let YouTube’s bots make technical decisions based on sophisticated yet somehow basic content matching, Toei allowed a piece of computer software to determine the nature of the company’s first interaction with not just an influential manga/anime fan, but a potential business partner.

Content ID was designed to tackle full-blown piracy but has zero ability to determine context or intent – malicious, well-meaning, or otherwise. It will grow in sophistication over time but it will never have the ability to predict the consequences of its actions. If it could it would’ve understood that Mark is an exceptional reviewer who loves manga and anime more than anything, is a wonderful promoter of Toei products, and has a loyal fanbase only too keen to empty their pockets buying Toei-like products.

“Are you sure you want to remove all of this YouTuber’s videos? (Y/N)”

But to focus on YouTube here is a little unfair since Content ID solves many more disputes than it creates. No, the real problem is the underutilization of one of humankind’s greatest gifts – that of communication. In a civilized world, there are few problems that can’t be solved or at least improved simply by talking. Apparently, that was not considered a viable option.

According to Mark, Toei’s first display of unhappiness was to delete his videos and ignore his appeals for discussion. Maybe the company felt there was nothing to discuss but as I mentioned in conversation with someone I respect who’s involved in the Japanese market, countless opportunities to exploit the situation for good (and for profit) were thrown away one after another, first by one side and then by the other.

There was a real chance for everyone to come out a winner but by not engaging in discussion, negotiation and compromise, pretty much everyone involved lost. As Stephen Hawking once said, it doesn’t have to be like this.

“Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Happy New Year


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