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Kekya Sandro

Junior lawyer

17 June 2021

YouTube: How Content ID Works

Thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube every day. With so much content being uploaded, it is difficult for platform administrators to simultaneously verify the originality of uploaded content and ensure acceptable video upload times to the platform. In order to strike a balance between protecting content rights holders and the usability of the video hosting platform, YouTube administrators have developed a number of tools to combat pirated content on the platform. Each of the tools available to rightsholders can be used to identify pirated content and file a complaint depending on the nature and frequency of illegal content use. Content ID system belongs to such tools. 

Unlike other ways of filing complaints about illegally posted content (the complaint form, the matchmaking tool, and the content verification program), Content ID is highly accurate for finding videos and music and is designed for those rights holders whose works are most often used in creating videos on YouTube, most often film studios and record companies.  

The main feature of Content ID system is its automated principle of work. There is no need for copyright owner to search a huge amount of information by he or herself in order to detect pirated content. The holder needs to register with Content ID to work with the system, and in order to do so, he or she needs to confirm the exclusive rights to the work, and upload a copy of it to the system. Once a copy has been uploaded, Content ID makes a digital fingerprint of the work, which is then used to automatically search for the rights holder’s works in the videos uploaded to YouTube. 

Copyright owners can choose different actions to take on material that matches theirs:

  1. Block a whole video from being viewed;
  2. Monetize the video by running ads against it; sometimes sharing revenue with the uploader;
  3. Track the video’s viewership statistics. 

However, a right holder who has registered in the Content ID system also needs to comply with the requirements of the system itself. First and foremost, this relates to the prohibition on filing unjustified applications for pirated content. Most often, this applies to cases where the person who posted the content of the right holder did so within the bona fide use of the work; more details are available at: 

At the same time, it is necessary to understand that YouTube rules apply the principle of fair use of a work somewhat wider than it is specified in the legislation of the Russian Federation. 

Thus, the right holder, upon discovering the use of his or her work in this or that video, needs to be sure that such use of the work is illegal. Otherwise, he or she may lose access to the Content ID system due to unreasonable claims.  

Content ID will match your reference content against every upload to YouTube. Copyright owners must have the exclusive rights to the material that's evaluated. Common examples of items that may not be exclusive to individuals include:

  • mashups, “best of”, compilations, and remixes of other works
  • video gameplay, software visuals, trailers
  • unlicensed music and video
  • music or video that was licensed, but without exclusivity
  • recordings of performances (including concerts, events, speeches, shows) 

Based on the way the Content ID system works and the specific requirements for sending claims to YouTube channel owners, one might think that Content ID is the perfect system for finding pirated content, but this is not the case. Despite the merits and technical sophistication of the system, some YouTube channel owners try to circumvent it. Most often, it is done by making changes in the content of right owners: mirroring videos, changing the frame format, adding effects, etc. However, the system itself does not stand still. Content ID gradually reduces the minimum duration of a video segment to be determined (currently it is approximately 30 seconds), and also improves methods of detecting standard workarounds to the system.

Thus, it can be concluded that Content ID system is an excellent tool for searching pirated content on YouTube. However, in order to work effectively with such a system, it is necessary to know its main features and correctly determine the policy of the right holder when dealing with the identified infringements. 

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