How to Monetize a Thief

YouTube has become a hotbed of abuse in recent years because of a copyright claim system that denies hard earned money for its creators. YouTube has not managed to change a thing about the copyright system despite thousands of creators posting videos about it.

YouTube is a video hosting site that started in 2004. The site offers an easy way to share and watch videos as much as one wants. YouTube grew in breadth very quickly and was bought by google just 18 months after it opened for about 1.7 billion dollars (Herrman 2017; Press-YouTube). The majority of support for YouTube comes from independent creators who have turned their channels into full time jobs. According to YouTube, approximately one-third of all users on the internet, numbering in the billions use YouTube (Press-YouTube). Large viewership means lots of advertising sales, in 2015 the popular YouTube video game player PewDiePie grossed about $13 million (Berg 2016). Other top creators grossed anywhere from 2 to 12 million dollars in ad revenue (Berg 2016). The content that creators make varies from make-up tutorials, to video gameplay, to micro scale news channels. Most of what creators on YouTube is protected under the fair use doctrine of 1977 (Pember et al., 2013). Which means creators who review video games, movies, and other media with use of small snippets of other content are not in the wrong. There are some creators who try to upload full movies online as a cheap way to garner views, but that isn’t the real issue here.


To combat copyright infringement on YouTube, a system called Content ID was created. When a creator uploads a video that they want protected, a reference file of the same video is sent to a database. The reference file contains audio and video that is scanned and compared against every other video on YouTube automatically (Press-YouTube). In addition, copyright claims can be made against a channel manually by an individual who feels their footage was used without permissions. The abuse comes in the latter.

Under Fair Use, most creators who use snippets of content that isn’t theirs are well within their rights. According to Don Pember and Clay Calvert’s Mass Media Law: “ The fair use of a copyrighted work… for purposes such as a criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research is not an infringement of copyright (pg. 538, 539). Unfortunately the claim system on YouTube does not bother if the content they are claiming is within fair use or not.

The entire system of content ID is broken because of the imbalance of power between the claimant and the creator.  Popular YouTube creator and movie reviewer Nostalgia Critic posted a video thoroughly explaining the copyright system.

“YouTube’s system is set up in such a way that incentivizes claimants to abuse it,

and that is precisely why their system is rampant with abuse. You can file a dispute, and then it is up the claimant to respond to your dispute within thirty days. If they don’t respond in thirty days, then their claim will be removed, and your video will be back to normal. If they do respond, they can either remove the claim or reinstate the claim. If they reinstate the claim, then you have to file an appeal (Walker 2016)”.

While a claim is active the video in question doesn’t get monetized and the creator doesn’t get paid for their work.

“There are no penalties for companies creating false claims or strikes. In fact, there’s a claim where you can take someone’s monetization on a video, even if the claim turns out to be false. So, if a studio says, ‘Hey, your Event Horizon review, that’s our review 100%’; they can take the money you’re supposed to be making on it until you file a dispute And, if they never fight it or are proven to be wrong, they still get to keep all the money that they made on you, no questions asked (Walker 2016)”.


Copyright claims on YouTube take a minimum of thirty days to process which leaves creators without monetization during the crucial time of getting video views which is immediately after uploading. This issue impacts hundreds of creators and many of them have posted about this issue.


YouTube supports its creators in many ways, but the copyright and content ID system is not aligned with the Fair Use doctrine. In fact the Content ID system justifies stealing hard earned money from video makers by issuing a baseless claim. YouTube ought to do something to change the claim system by allowing creators to file more than three disputes, handle the ad revenue money in a more responsible way during a claim process and create some sort of penalty system for false claims bent on stealing money.


Works Cited


Berg, Madeline. “The World’s Top-Earning YouTube Stars 2015.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Aug. 2016,

Herrman, John. “YouTube’s Monster: PewDiePie and His Populist Revolt.” The New York Times, 17 Feb. 2017,

Pember, Don R., and Clay Calvert. Mass media law. McGraw-Hill, 2013.

“Press-YouTube.” YouTube, YouTube,

Walker, Doug. YouTube, YouTube, 16 Feb. 2016,


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