YouTube’s Takedown Numbers are a Mystery, But Content-ID is a ‘Cash Cow’

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Google transparently reports the billions of copyright takedown requests it receives for its search engine. However, finding out how many videos are flagged and removed on YouTube appears to be quite the challenge. We gave it a go nonetheless and can also conclude that the Content ID system is a cash cow.

YouTube smileEarlier this year we reported that Google had processed the five billionth DMCA takedown request for its search engine, a massive number.

These data are conveniently shared through Google’s official transparency report, which is a treasure trove for reporters.

For example, it allowed us to monitor the steep increase in notices over the years, as well as the subsequent decline. The data has also helped us spot errors and inaccuracies and it also provides fuel for academic research as well.

It’s safe to say that Google’s transparency report offers a wealth of valuable information. It would make sense to have similar data available for YouTube but, unfortunately, that’s not the case.

No YouTube Copyright Transparency Report

When we look at Google’s transparency report, there is no mention of YouTube’s copyright complaints. There is plenty of data showing how many videos, channels, and comments are removed for violating the community guidelines. However, copyright requests are not included.

This is odd because every day there are mentions of YouTubers facing issues with DMCA removals or Content ID flagging. These reports have increased over the years but keeping track of the volume, or scanning publicly for errors, is impossible.

We asked Google about this omission this week, but without result. While the company has been quite responsive to other inquiries, it remains silent on this issue.

This leaves us with no other option than to scour the web for bits and pieces, trying to lift at least part of the veil.

After browsing through public reports and testimonies, we found that in 2017 YouTube removed “more than 7 million video URLs” following DMCA requests. These are requests that are sent by copyright holders outside of the Content ID system.

This is actually a vital reference point because YouTube separately reported that 98% of all copyright claims were made through Content ID in the same year. This indirectly suggests that a total of 350 million copyright claims were made on YouTube that year.

350 Million YouTube Copyright Claims

The 350 million is extrapolated from public information and not confirmed by Google, but it would make sense. And given that the data is from 2017, we expect the number to be significantly higher right now.

It is worth noting that only a small fraction of the reported videos were removed. That brings up another intriguing Content ID feature that’s not often highlighted: the monetization angle.

YouTube frequently mentions that it spent over $100 million on the development of its Content ID system. This is brought up to show how much the company cares about and invests in rightsholders but the anti-piracy system helps to bump its own revenues as well.

In a recent hearing, before the US Senate, YouTube’s Global Director of Business Public Policy Katherine Oyama said that the vast majority of all claimed videos are not removed, but monetized instead.

“Rightsholders choose to monetize 90% of all Content ID claims, opening up a multitude of new revenue streams for themselves. In the music industry, rightsholders choose to monetize over 95% of Content ID claims.”

This revenue is split between YouTube and copyright holders. And with millions of flagged videos, we’re not talking about peanuts here.

Billions in Content-ID Monetization Revenue

At the Senate hearing last December, Oyama said that YouTube paid more than $5.5 billion in ad revenue to rightsholders from content that was claimed and monetized through Content ID.

What YouTube didn’t highlight is that it made billions in revenue from these same videos as well. Revenue that would have (partially) been lost if the videos had been taken offline. That’s well worth the $100 million investment into the Content ID system.

Monetizing ‘infringing’ videos instead of taking them offline has essentially transformed the anti-piracy tool into a cash cow that generates massive amounts of money for copyright holders and YouTube.

(Almost) No Losers

It almost appears to be an ideal scenario where there are only winners and no losers. Almost…

That brings us back to the transparency issue. In the past, we have seen rightsholders abuse the Content ID system to claim content that’s clearly fair use, or sometimes simply not something they own. These people can then hijack the ad revenue as well, which clearly frustrates the channel owners

Now if we could only transparently see what is claimed and by who, it may actually help to limit these mistakes, and hold abusers accountable.


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