Thank god for Jim Sterling, a game critic whose recent YouTube antics forced YouTube’s copyright system to eat itself alive. Here’s how he did it.
As you may already know, YouTube has something called “Content ID,” which is a system that theoretically allows users to identify and manage their videos.
Basically, once a video is online, viewers can put a digital fingerprint on it. If another YouTube channel uploads a video, and the system believes that the new video has the same digital fingerprint, then the new video gains a Content ID claim. The owners of the original Content ID can then gain some ownership over the new video, and YouTube allows them to monetize the video for themselves, or sometimes outright block it.
The problem is, Content ID is often abused by YouTubers who try to lay claim to footage that isn’t really theirs. It’s especially difficult to fight off Content ID claims from big companies, who may not be receptive to the woes of a smaller unknown channel. Fighting against a Content ID claim is also risky, because if the dispute isn’t resolved amicably, a channel may gain what is known as a “strike.” One strike is enough to strip a channel of certain YouTube privileges, annoyingly enough. Three strikes will cause YouTube to terminate your channel outright.
In short, the system is pretty terrible because not only can it be gamed easily, Content ID often seems to serve the needs of big corporations rather than the common YouTube populace.
Earlier this week, game critic Jim Sterling uploaded an episode of his Jimquisition series, where he skewers the recently released Wii U game Star Fox Zero. According to Jim Sterling, Nintendo’s love for the idea of innovation can sometimes jeopardize games that don’t need to reinvent the wheel in the first place:
The entire episode is worth a watch based on Sterling’s well-reasoned arguments. But the thing that really sets it apart is a revelation near the end of the video, where Sterling explains why he makes such ample use of footage that is completely unrelated to what he actually discusses throughout the video.
“You may have noticed this week’s video had footage from Metal Gear Solid V, Grand Theft Auto V, and Beyond: Two Souls in it,” Sterling said. “Now, there’s a reason for that. The reason is Nintendo. Because I’m talking about a Nintendo game this week, I’ve used Nintendo game footage, and that means Nintendo will attempt to monetize this video even though the point of the Jimquisition is to be ad-free, thanks to your lovely help on Patreon.”
So, Jim Sterling hatched a plan. He went back through his older videos, and took note of what footage got slammed with a Content ID claim in the past. He then went ahead and copied that same flagged footage, and stuck it into his new video. The self-sabotage was intentional: Sterling wanted to fuck with the Content ID system.
“I figured every time I talk about Nintendo, I’m going to throw in other stuff that gets flagged by Content ID, and just watch the corporations battle it out,” Sterling said. His hope was that by pulling this stunt, he could stop any company from monetizing the video at all, since it wouldn’t be clear who really owned the footage in the first place. And if anybody did manage to monetize the video, they’d probably only get peanuts for it.
The scheme panned out just the way he thought it would, Jim Sterling tells Kotaku.
“I can confirm it works,” Jim Sterling said over email. “It’s worked several times before. WMG tried to monetize the video for the Erasure music, but couldn’t because Nintendo and Take-Two had set their ContentID in this particular case to Not Monetized.”
“I discovered this by accident a few months back when competing claims from Sony and Konami meant no ads ended up running on my video. Pretty good workaround for someone trying to keep my series ad-free, even if it means you have to actively try and ‘infringe copyright’ to exercise your fair use rights.”
Ha. Way to be clever, Jim Sterling. But here’s hoping that one day, YouTube’s copyright system isn’t so bad that it necessitates ridiculous workarounds like this one. One can dream, eh?