Anyone else getting hassled on Youtube? And why is it always Sony?

Message from Antonio Pompa-Baldi, professor of piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music:

Something extremely disturbing is happening on YouTube.

Like many musicians, I have a YouTube channel. I upload videos, mostly of my own playing. I would never upload something played by someone else and try to pass it for mine. Unfortunately, those kinds of people do exist, we know, but I never have, and never will.

We know that YouTube, like Facebook, has a very dumb software that “recognizes” the music played, to see if one is infringing on copyrights. We know this software is dumb because, while it recognizes the piece, it does not distinguish performances. That’s why, often, a Facebook live broadcast gets stopped, or a claim is put on a YouTube video by mistake. Usually, one appeals, and the claim is removed.

However, for three of my own videos (Mozart Sonata K332, Beethoven Emperor, and Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto) Sony Music Entertainment claims I am using other people’s performances. In other words, they claim I used commercial recordings. That is absolutely false, of course.

The disturbing things here are: 1) If there is a dispute, why would YouTube allow one of the two parties to decide? That’s like having prosecution and defense lawyers, but no judge, and only the prosecution gets to decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent. It’s nonsense. Should there not be a third entity making the decision, one that is not partial? Well, YouTube says SME decides whether the claim they put on my video is valid or not. 2) How can SME claim I’m using Badura-Skoda’s Mozart Sonata, when all they’d have to do is listen for a few seconds and they would immediately know it’s not the same recording? Does that mean they don’t even listen? 3) Perhaps the worst part: after SME rejected my statement that the video is mine, YouTube let me know that, if I appealed again, I risked a “copyright strike”.

Three copyright strikes means your account is terminated. It is all completely unfair, and it is crooked, too. SME is monetizing my video, saying that they own the rights to it, when they do NOT. I am going to watch what happens after my second appeal, and then, if this does not get properly rectified, I am going to start a movement. I am going to call on everyone who is, or has been in a similar situation, to go after YouTube, together. Yes, not after SME. After YouTube. It’s their platform. If there is a dispute, they should be the judge, not me nor SME!

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  • Zsolt Bognar says:

    Yes this problem is totally out of control. Almost all my colleagues have run into this problem—and more and more. What to do when computers try to identify our own performances as those of others from the past? It’s flabbergasting. We ran into this same issue with live student performances at Pianofest. Absolutely appalling.

  • Eric says:

    We had a ridiculous situation with YT’s ‘dumb software’ recently. We had uploaded a live recording of a contemporary piece owned by the composer. It was an unlisted video so only viewable/listenable to someone to whom we had sent the link.

    Despite filling in the details of the recording correctly etc, YT overwrote this and identified it as a US high school wind band performance of a piece by a composer we had never heard of…

    When we queried it, we were told that it had been correctly identified as such by a particular passage in the music, which was then quoted to us. We listened back, and to our amazement the passage in question contained not a single note but just audience applause!! So, no musical basis top the decision whatsoever… Some people clapped in a similar way to some other people in two concerts six years apart on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

    Eventually they removed the reference after some weeks.

  • This would be a very easy problem to fix since it is virtually impossible for the total length of performances to be identical. That could be simply checked by the algorithms. And if people tried to trick the algorithm by using slight amounts of time stretching or compression, the algorithm could check for timings between several notes in various phrases and to make sure their relative time relationships are different than other recordings. That would also be a fairly simple algorithm to write.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Artificial stupidity…

    • Antonio Pompa-Baldi says:

      Yes. However, the humans at YouTube should see that, in a dispute, only a third party should be allowed to solve it. They could also easily use the widespread and readily available technology that identifies commercially released recordings, so that every video of a live performance would never have to be questioned.

      • Bill says:

        Antonio, could you identify this “widespread and readily available” technology? The software that tells you the tracks on a CD you insert in your computer does not identify music, but rather entire CDs, and if you were to make a CD with those same recordings but scrambled in order, it would not recognize it as the same recordings. Essentially, it is like recognizing a book by looking at the table of contents and verifying that there are an identical number of chapters, each chapter has the right number of pages, and they are in the same order – but not checking what the names of the chapters are!

        Apple’s iTunes Music Library has software that does attempt to identify/match individual tracks, but it is far from perfect – it regularly fails to recognize error-free rips from commercial CDs as being identical to the same performance in the iTunes store. And even if we demur on reliability and the “widespread” part, I do not see any evidence that Apple is making the technology they use available to anyone else, nor am I aware of anyone else offering such a service. That someone has written software to do it no more makes it readily available than selling violins makes high quality performances of violin music readily available…

  • Anna says:

    I would support your statement 100%!!!

  • Trevor S. says:

    Actually, it’s easy to terminate claim by putting real reasons why the video is yours. You won’t get the second strike if you explain calmly what’s happening.
    I’m really sick of it, but you have to understand that they are really trying to stand on both legs: giving people a chance to upload everything and fighting with unfair use of other people’s art

    • Antonio Pompa-Baldi says:

      Absolutely, Trevor. Protecting peoples endeavors, work, ideas, intellectual property etc. is extremely important. However, I politely gave every reason why the claim was not justifiable. Sony just decided it was. And again, it is absurd that they should make the decision. It is absurd that somebody can accuse you of something you have not done, and then be the sole judge in the dispute.

  • I’ve noticed that in the last month the majors have started reporting videos that have the same name as works in their catalogues irrespective of the audio content. I suspect that’s what’s happening here too.

    This has come about as a result of people altering copyrighted sound recordings in order to bypass YouTube’s Content ID system (e.g. modulating the pitch of the recording or time-stretching it so that the “fingerprint” of the audio is different enough to not match the original). So, in a desperate attempt to mop up a little more ad revenue they’ve resorted to blindly matching text. Presumably, much like content ID, this is an automated service, hence all the false claims.

    In my experience, whenever I’ve disputed a claim and presented the facts they have dropped it. I think it’s worth remembering that there is a human being at a publisher or label on the other end of that process – they must review dozens if not hundreds of claims a day, many of which are fraudulent or, perhaps more accurately, ignorant of copyright and music rights. So, don’t join the sea of angry ignorant people – always be factual, polite and courteous or you risk undermining your credibility.

    The process I follow is:

    * Click on ‘File a dispute’

    * Don’t click on any of the honeypot options (“I own the CD”, “I’m not making any money”, “I gave credit in the video”) – these are funnels for common misunderstandings about “fair use” which lead straight to your dispute being denied.

    * Don’t select ‘The content is in the public domain or is not eligible for copyright protection’ because if this is your video then you own the copyrights in the sound recording and video irrespective of whether the music’s publishing is in the public domain.

    * Don’t select ‘My use of the content meets the legal requirements for fair use or fair dealing under applicable copyright laws’ as this isn’t a fair use issue (the work would have to be in copyright for fair use to be a consideration)

    * Don’t select ‘I have a license or permission from the proper rights holder to use this material’ because the work is in the public domain (including the specific edition or arrangement of the music you have publicly performed and recorded, right?) so there is nothing to license.

    * Do select ‘The video is my original content and I own all of the rights to it’.

    * Tick the box next to the statement “I am sure that I own all rights to the audio and visual content in this video, and I want to dispute this claim”.

    * In your explanation write something along the lines of “The works of Mozart entered the public domain over 150 years ago. This video and sound recording was made by me performing this public domain work and I therefore own all applicable rights. Whilst Sony own the mechanical rights to a different recording of this same public domain work, and they inevitably share the same name, a quick comparison of the recordings will reveal that they are unique and that this claim has been made in error. Thank you for reviewing this claim and acknowledging the mistake :)”.

    • Antonio Pompa-Baldi says:

      Dear Kenneth, you’re right. At some point down the line, a human being behind a desk is involved. That’s why the only negative or derogatory word I have used is dumb, and this in reference to the software. I know that millions of people have had unjustified claims on their videos. I, myself have had so many of them removed, upon disputing them. However, what is extremely unfair is the fact that the claimant should get to decide whether their claim still holds. It is unfair for YouTube to not get involved, and to have an automated system that just strikes down your account if the claimant rejects your disputes. I also submit that the technology clearly exists to match not only music but the actual commercial recordings to any musical content of any video. We as users, at the very least, need to demand that YouTube start utilizing this more accurate technology. If you stick a CD into your computer and open iTunes, it doesn’t just tell you what music it contains, but also who is playing and when it was recorded. I think at least 90% of all claims would not be happening if they started using this technology. That’s all.

      • Kurt Anderson says:

        Dear Antonio,

        iTunes identifies a CD so accurately because burned into the CD is a ISRC (International Standard Recording Code). It then goes to gracenote.com and looks up the metadata on the CD which was submitted by the record company.

        So none of it is based on an aural algorithm.

      • Hi Antonio. I don’t think the CDDB or FreeDB are a good analogy or evidence of superior technology – they’re essentially an even more naive version of YouTube’s content ID which simply looks at the number of tracks on the disc, their individual lengths and the order that those tracks of different lengths appear to create a “unique” fingerprint. Or, as Kurt points out, more recent releases may have metadata embedded on the CD.

        Sound recordings taken out of that context, without any metadata, are a much trickier thing to identify, which is what content ID tries to do.

        I don’t see google turning themselves in to an arbitrator in these cases – who are they to make a decision on ownership when two parties cannot agree? Whilst favouring claimants seams unfairly biased, given the overwhelming amount of copyright infringing videos uploaded on to the service every second, that’s clearly the least problematic side to fall on.

        Copyright strikes are not permanent. So, try to avoid acquiring three at the same time by appealing them one by one until resolved. See https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2814000

        It’s really important that you do follow up on any unjustified disputes – all of this data is, presumably, training the content ID system.

        Failing that, consider switching to using a service like Vimeo which doesn’t have content ID. As long as you don’t aspire to monetising your videos that’s always an option open to you.

    • Carrie Kourkoumelisa says:

      Thank you very much for this valuable advice!

    • Carrie Kourkoumelis says:

      Thank you so much for this valuable advice!

  • Caravaggio says:

    It’s called Death By Algorithm. YouTube is not free for nothing. All these free platforms, look out. I can see a day in an unforeseen future when all the hard work of creating and uploading videos goes up in smoke, getting appropriated and coopted by ravenous Google. There will be full out corporate control of which videos get promoted and which get silenced. In fact this is already happening. As I said, death by algorithm.

  • Nelson says:

    This happened to me when I posted (only in private mode, for a few friends) a performance of mine of Beethoven’s Op. 96 Violin Sonata. Simply ridiculous. What I find absurd is that there are SO many commercial recordings ripped from cds or lps that clearly should NOT be allowed to be posted, yet those get a pass by the “system”? I suppose in those cases, when the recording is lumped into one long track the usual method of recognition goes out the window (of the combination of single track lengths). I hope this issue gets more coverage and Sony is forced to change their ways!

  • Chin Kim says:

    yup. Every time I upload my playing to YouTube, I await anxiously to see if any companies try to claim rights, and they always do, especially Sony

  • F. Morana says:

    Strictly speaking, that’s not so. In performing the compositions in question, you may have relied upon one or more published editions of the music, and in so doing, you opened yourself to a legitimate copyright claim on the part of the publishers of the editions you used. This is especially pertinent if, as
    a responsible performer, you used one of the great scholarly texts, whose painstaking and scientific accuracy is the result of extensive and costly musicological research. Even if you used a piece of cheap sheet music for your performance, the publisher thereof is still entitled to a claim. Even if you learned the music strictly by ear, on the basis of a recording or a piano roll, you’ve infringed upon someone else’s “property.”

    I know I’m playing devil’s advocate, but we’re dealing with a social phenomenon in which, normally, there can be no such thing as “this is my exclusive work and I own all the rights.” An exception, I suppose, would be in the case of an idiot savant who might purportedly hear a live performance once and then play it back note-for-note, but even then you could say he “stole” it. Another exception, perhaps, the great jazzman to whom you could whistle a tune and have him play that tune with all the trappings of art, but that’s not Classical Music is it?

    What I believe is that, in the sphere of Classical Music & Related Cultures, the modern performer is no artist at all, but a skilled parrot at best, and a mere transcriptionist at worst.

    P.S. About five years ago, I put 150 of my Bach videos on YouTube, but subsequently had to take every one of them down, for the reasons described above.

    • melitongue says:

      Hilarious supposition: YouTube algorithm identifying whether you used Wiener Urtext or Schirmer. How? By the fingering…

  • I have had exactly the same problems with nearly all of my youtube videos, which are all recording of myself conducting, including those by Mozart, Beethoven, Johann Strauss II, Elgar, Debussy, Stravinsky, and even with the rare 1894 opera “Tabasco” by George Whitefield Chadwick which I reconstructed, copyrighted, and published myself. It is often the same procedure as described here where some robot seems to think that my recording was actually a recording by some large record company, and this can take even 30 days for the other party to confirm or deny. The worst part is that my videos become unavailable during that time, or the other parties are allowed to insert advertising and/or monetize my recordings, and it has even happened that I have had to re-submit the dispute because the other party would not acknowledge that it was indeed my recording. It is all so frustrating because as you can see from my videos, both the orchestra and conductor are always visible, and of course there are plenty of details which show this to be my own interpretation. Please, let’s start some type of petition to youtube. I will gladly sign on to this cause to request that they change the way they handle these disputes.

  • Caravaggio says:

    By the way, the harassment on YouTube is not confined to Sony. Universal/Warner (one and the same? can’t keep track of mergers & acquisitions) are also major harassers on the platform.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    A certain bitter irony here: YT yanking down legit videos posted by the performers themselves, when there are gobs and gobs of dubs of commercial LPs, radio broadcasts, telecasts, etc. all over YouTube. Two thoughts:

    Maybe Sony is purposely using a shotgun approach to knock out videos that compete with theirs…

    I have to agree with “F. Morana” above that if anybody should have a beef about artist videos, it should be the *publisher* of the sheet music they’re performing from. They could probably demand the performer pay a broadcast royalty.

    It’s curious that in a time when intellectual property and copyright laws become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to enforce, we see extreme laissez-faire laxness juxtaposed with heavy-handedness in enforcement. Strange times.

  • MR says:

    This is very interesting. I really appreciate this info. I have had trouble with this for years. I assumed it was as Morana mentioned – that publishers were disputing the performances. So I have only disputed claims where I could easily submit the manuscript from which I played. (I realize someone also made the manuscript available, usually on imslp.) But always fearfully, because I know that I could lose all the videos up. Now I’m thinking you are right, because I have not received a hit for a while, and everything I have posted recently has been a premier or a Baroque and before unrecorded or mostly unrecorded work. Automation issues have been a problem for years. I lost an entire youtube account when youtube and gmail converged because I must have “claimed” them in the wrong order. The one not attached to my gmail became connected to my gmail, and the one formerly connected to my gmail I could never access again. I was never able to access a human and get back into my own account and lost all those unlisted videos. (The listed ones are there, much to certain people’s dismay.) Years (decades?) ago, I accidently hit the itunes “identify track” button, or whatever it was, and suddenly every performance of every piece I had ever written stored in my itunes was renamed – based on the time stamp. I was Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston! Many I was able to find and re-name as my own based on memory and hours and hours of going through my computer and memory. But I’m sure I lost some. Now, fb’s algorithm has decided that my musical group raising money for homeless shelters is “political” – so we can’t even pay for advertisement without “this ad is political” appearing next to it, and all our financial info attached for 7 years or something. Not to mention me giving fb my SS# and more. While I realize that all these algorithms are designed to protect “us” it is incredibly exasperating to spend so many hours on your “good intention soul project” trying to fight a robot that you can never win for no pay.

  • Abhaydas says:

    Yes me too

  • Robert says:

    I had this happen to me after I purchased royalty free music from Amazon that gave me the right to use it in videos. Well, some ass bought the same royalty free music and dubbed a pathetic song over the royalty free music and put it up for sale on amazon. So, my video on youtube got hit automatically with a copyright claim ?

  • I’m a friend of Zsolt Bognar, and he requested I repost my comment from his Facebook page that I posted earlier today. Here it is: The thing that is so frustrating is that YouTube takes your video down right as you release it (I have 60,000 subs, and many people get notified via email…only to find a video that’s under copyright review. People then dislike the video because they’re frustrated, so the video fares worse in the YouTube rankings when it finally is released). It completely destroys your traffic and can alienate the people who are subscribed to your channel. I posted a video of my recent Saint-Saens Concerto No.2 performance which was held for a week under 4 false copyright notices. The video was finally released and struggled to get 1000 views in a week, which is usually what I get in the first day of posting a video. I sent out an email announcing it to 2500 people on my email list, only to have many of them respond with disappointed emails and unsubscribe from my email list. Super frustrating stuff.

    I’m a big fan of yours, Mr. Pompa-Baldi, and thank you Mr. Lebrecht for your wonderful writing. Just FYI – When I have received a second dispute, I just made sure I was extremely clear in my explanation, that I have proof and original files to back up my claims, along with third party witnesses that can vouch for the recording authenticity. This resulted in them immediately removing their claim. I wish you both all the best in your music-making and your writing!

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