YouTube: Filmmakers Presumed Guilty Until (Maybe) Proven Innocent

Posted on by Larry

[ The following article, along with comments from Smartsound and Shockwave-Sound, was written by Tony Fleming and published with his permission. ]

Larry, you have helped me out in the past with problems but this is not one of those situations. It is something of which I think you need to be aware, assuming you are not already.

I am responsible for nearly all the 144 videos uploaded on the You Tube channel for We have just under 65,000 subscribers and several of the videos have well over 1,000,000 views. The videos range from a few minutes to just over one hour.
I get many comments every day and many of them say they are the best they have watched on You Tube for the photography, story telling, narration and music. I mention all of this not because I have a swollen head but to prove context and to show that we are not a fly-by-night outfit.

I have always purchased all the music in all my videos from legitimate sources. eg: Smartsound, Shockwave-sound, Magnatune, and Pond5. My videos are now being attacked by a blizzard of copyright claims from people who are claiming copyright on pretty well every piece of music on pretty well every video posted on You Tube. Things really came to a head in the last couple days over one particular video which runs for 1 hour and 2 minutes. This video was made and posted in 2009.


There was a claim made against a piece of music which ran 81 seconds. The music was originally purchased under the title of Irish Reel from SmartSound. The identical track for which copyright is being claimed has been re-named Kilfenora Reels. I filled in the five page dispute which was rejected by the claimant and You Tube told me that if I didn’t remove the music/video within one week they would issue a copyright strike against our Youtube account. I had been receiving complaints in the comments about the amount of ads in this video so I watched it and found that You Tube had virtually destroyed it with 12 advertising video segments interrupting the playing of my video in addition to six lower third display ads and, of course some advertising rubbish before the video would start playing! So You Tube and the advertisers are making revenue off my video from these ads.

Larry adds: Note that Anthony has to appeal the take-down notice NOT to an unbiased third-party, but to the person making the original claim. This is neither fair, nor likely to prevent additional abuse. A fraudulent claimant has every reason to be unhelpful.

I decided to remove the 81 seconds of disputed music by importing the MP4 version into Final Cut and doing some minor editing. I then exported the revised version. I deleted the existing version of the video and uploaded the new version with a different URL and a slightly modified title — A Single Step. Venture II in Europe (Revised).

The result was that the revised video had 5 new copyright claims even before upload processing was complete! I haven’t checked but I believe that is every piece of music in the video. You Tube won’t even publish the video on line until all the copyright claims have been settled. They say that monetization will go to the copyright claimants. I know that all the music came from because the original video was made in 2009 and I wasn’t purchasing music from any other source at that time. The titles for each music track has been changed so it is a miserable, time-consuming task to try to match the new title with the original from among hundreds of music tracks. I have disputed every one of the claims but I know that will lead nowhere – except renewed threats.

So now You Tube has effectively made it impossible even to adjust to already-phony copyright claims. Copyright claimers clearly automatically target every new video uploaded – especially the longer ones – in the hope that that the creator will find it too onerous to dispute every track of music in every video and they will be able to benefit from ad revenue from someone else’s work. The fact that to go to the trouble of purchasing legit music from legit sources does not provide protection from these scams places the business model of those content providers at risk.

For myself, I have made the decision that I will never again upload a video onto YouTube. From now on I will stay 100% with Vimeo but, as we know, they have a fraction of the viewership of You Tube – primarily because so few people know they even exist.

I’m sorry this is so long. As I said, I don’t expect you to actually do anything but I did want you to know just had bad the situation has become.

– – –

Tony reached out to Bjorn Lynne with Shockwave-Sound and, who replied:

Hi, Tony. I understand your situation. And that’s frustrating. Nobody foresaw this Content-ID stuff 15 years ago.

At least, if it’s music you got from us at Shockwave-Sound, I can help you and I have never not been successful in getting a claim released for a customer.

If you are in doubt about whether you got a piece of music from us, you can always contact me and I should be able to find out for you. You can also log into your user-account at Shockwave-Sound and find a list of all your past orders there.

– – –

In addition, Martin, at Smartsound added:

Thanks a lot for your mail. I explained the matter to BMG and they told me they would directly release that video… due to the fact that the music itself is public domain and the claim was probably a false positive.

So, I wonder why they never released it?

Please provide me with the details on that claim (screenshots, e.g.) of all music tracks within one of your videos so we can hunt this down — it is simply not acceptable that YouTube/3rd parties claim whatever they want and we willet your channel on their allowlist and ask them to remove that content from Content ID.

Recently, we even experienced sound effects getting claimed, which is against all YouTube policies. We also started involving our law firm to get those claims disputed as it seems to be the Wild West in a way.

Anthony responded to Martin:

Many thanks for your prompt reply. I will try to attach everything I can re the latest five claims. The problem is that, as in the case with Irish Reel, the claimant changes the name of the music. Previously I have had to resort to recording each piece of suspect music on my iPhone and then compare with hundreds of tracks in my music library trying to find a match. This can take hours and, frankly, I have grown weary of it!

I should tell you that we have never been interested in monetizing our videos. We hated the idea of crappy ads appearing before the video played. A few months ago, YouTube said they were going to place ads on all videos whether the creator wanted them or not. After suffering this for a while, we made the decision to monetize our videos on the basis that if someone was going to earn money from our videos (like it or not) we may as well get some of it. Our videos have been monetized for August and September but we made the decision yesterday to reverse this decision.

The problem is that I don’t believe this will solve the current problem because we experienced it – albeit to a lesser degree – before we monetized.

– – –

Larry adds: Thanks, Tony, for sharing your letter. I agree, this is an increasingly scary situation. I did not realize how YouTube assumes that every claim is legitimate and then makes it very, very difficult for filmmakers who properly purchased rights to the music they use to get their videos approved.

It is ridiculous that YouTube has you contact the person making the claim for redress. As if that will deter scammers. Instead, it seems YouTube takes the easy way out by removing all videos, then compounding the problem by offering invisible customer service for creators to fix problems.

For other filmmakers reading this, PLEASE prevent problems when posting your movies:

Feel free to share your experiences – and solutions – in the comments below.

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32 Responses to YouTube: Filmmakers Presumed Guilty Until (Maybe) Proven Innocent

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  1. Billy Einkamerer says:

    This is shocking and I’ve recently been made aware of it from Rick Beato’s incredible channel. He’s had much back and forth with this story and has videos on the topic.

    I suggest to most of my clients to consider Vimeo as an alternative.

    Super frustrating but they have no reason to change their money making formula. Check out Rick here:

  2. Tony Fleming says:

    The latest personal outrage with You Tube is that a few months ago I co-operated with my daughter to make a video about the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico where she lives on a remote ranch looking after 42 previously wild, rescued, mustangs. She provided the video footage and I did the editing. The video received an award from the (very small) Santa Fe Trail Association. Naturally, I was pleased and my daughter thrilled. Now she has just received a copyright claim against the music – which I purchased from Pond5. The claim is against her because the video is uploaded on her site. But, of course, she does not know how to deal with this – sadly I do because of previous experience – but it’s an additional, time wasting, complication. Fortunately I still have the FCP version on file so I will be able to identify the exact piece of music and I have the record from Pond 5 and I know they will help. But more wasted time and another example of this disgusting practice leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth. We know we have to respond because, otherwise, You Tube will insert a video ad every 5 minutes during the playing of the 37 minute video and, in effect, totally destroy this carefully crafted, atmospheric film.

  3. Tony Fleming says:

    Another e-mail comment recently received concerning the enormous numbers of views this string has received after being reposted:

    A simple search shows it was posted to reddit (very popular) and twitter, and a bunch of meaningless click-bait bot sites.
    The Hacker News posting has almost 400 upvotes — meaning people cared enough to read and agree with the link’s contents.
    This kept the posted link on the 1st page all day — the only links with more activity are today’s Apple product announcements!
    So yeah, this hit a nerve — good job!

    I’ve read through the 170+ comments, a few are pretty good, but most point out how big YouTube won’t help a person out unless there’s some legal DCMA issue Google’s responsible for.
    They’ve managed to evade responsibility for the fraud and abuse of Content ID, especially complaints from individual creators.

    For us small-time videographers who rely on licensed music we’re dependent upon the music creators and distributors to have managed their licensing properly as well as satisfy Google’s Content ID registration.
    If you’re on the market for licensed music the distributor should state that it’s licensed for use on YouTube, etc, and if you have an issue they’ll handle it.

    For YouTube ad spam, well, we’re all screwed as that’s their business model.
    Or tell your viewers to use “uBlock Origin” extension on their browser to block ads — works great on Windows.
    Unfortunately this may not help Mac users or folks using the YouTube app.

    I’m no lawyer but if enough YouTube creators complain about being cheated out of monetization due to Content ID fraud and threaten class-action lawsuit then maybe YT will consider changing things…

  4. the video creators should finally go directly to the source of the music, namely the musicians .. 🙂
    i make music out of hobby. you are welcome to take any song from me. of course free of charge. I can also confirm this to you via email. of course also as a permanent permit.
    the music is here:
    on the side is a player. there you can download every single song. you can also find email.

    @larry collect musicians who make their music freely available. post the links. that would be something, especially something new against youtube and co.

    • Larry says:


      This is a very generous offer and I hope some filmmakers take you up on it. But, while generous, this doesn’t help musicians who want to earn a living making music, nor deal with licensing rights for existing music. Music is a very complex business and Google is only making it worse.


      • luckily i don’t have to live from my music .. :-))
        I still believe that filmmakers and musicians should work closer together. the market is full of good storytellers who do it purely privately. but yes: google makes it worse and worse in the end.

  5. Scott Pinzon says:

    #Iwork4Dell. As a video producer, I’ve used a lot of licensed sites, including audiojungle and Due to the glut of fake claims on stock music, Dell’s Legal department limited me to using audio sites that indemnify the user. (In other words, if someone makes a claim against a track, the stock music company will step in and take the suit off your hands.) The only one that met Dell’s legal standards is Storyblocks. Frankly I’m not used to judging music by legal standards instead of musical and emotional standards, but other producers should at least weigh that indemnification angle when choosing a stock music provider.

    • Larry says:


      Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this insight. I was not aware of the possibilities of indemnity. And, for any large company that is likely to get sued for any possible reason, their approach makes sense. This is a music site other producers need to know about.

      Still, you’re right. Making music decisions for legal reasons feels truly weird.



  6. As a Youtube producer, I had a music dispute recently over a piece I purchased through Envato. When I showed the claimant (music composer) the paper work that I receive with every Envato music purchase, he backed down. He must have forgotten that he offered his music clip on Envato in the past. Yes, the title name was changed. That seems standard practice for songwriters selling to different markets. Best advice is to get and keep all the legal paperwork to prove your innocence.

    Bruce Wittman

    • Larry says:


      EXCELLENT comment. Paperwork is not my favorite thing. But getting a take-down notice is worse. “Make sure you have proof of license and keep that paperwork readily available” is very good advice.


  7. Paul says:

    Thanks for sharing this letter. I’ve hard some similar dings for purchased music for clients, which, thankfully, I’ve been able to resolve quickly; but it is good to know that the scammers have started to troll youtube, and that youtube – sic: Google – is basically doing nothing to help creators. User beware.

  8. Jon says:

    Sadly, YouTube has been doing this for years, we have hundreds of productions on our YouTube channel and all tracks are properly Licensed and paid for through CSS Music. We do on occasion, use the same track in another production, after all a good piece of music is a good piece of music; but everytime we upload, we instantly get hit with a notice, even if the track had been previously flagged and then cleared prior to being used in another one of our productions. So in addition to being guilty until proven innocent, you can also be charged with double or triple jeopardy, because YouTube seems to keep no records of tracks they flagged that were proven to be properly Licensed. YouTube simply assumes you’re guilty and you have to deal with it. It is a frustrating and enormously time consuming endeavor, and YouTube simply doesn’t care about the accuracy of their claims, nor do they keep any records that showed you properly Licensed and purchased a given track- no matter how many times you show them.

    • Larry says:


      It is incredibly frustrating that the most important distributor for most of our work makes that distribution so difficult. You have my sympathy.


  9. I wonder if Apple gets hit by the scammers. If not, what do they do that we don’t do?

    Can ALL audio sounds be documented well enough in the visual and meta credits to avoid or satisfy any claims?

    • Larry says:


      Any large company, I suspect, get hit by spammers. However, they also have large enough staffs – and direct contacts to YouTube – to minimize these problems.

      That’s a, somewhat cynical, guess. I haven’t asked Apple, though I should.


  10. Bob Houghton says:

    Hi Larry,

    Thank you for the enlightening and excellent post.

    As a very small-time producer, one who got into this arena just about a year ago, I am finding a similar situation with YouTube. They slapped a claim on one video which, after doing some thorough investigation, I found that it was legit. Our video featured the performance of a song written by a living composer. This was a performance we created rather than being an audio file captured from someone else. Fair enough.

    However, YouTube slapped a claim on a song that we performed in another video by a composer who died more than a century ago, for which the lyrics were written more than two centuries ago. The claim was for the poem. I attempted to remove all explicit references to the poem, but it seemed to me that YouTube remembered the history. {sigh} Ultimately the video was posted with a copyright claim on it.

    I don’t have the resources nor the energy to pursue this. And much like what Tony Flemming wrote, I, too, am looking at other avenues for video publication. Vimeo did come to mind. My marketing team (er, person) is working on publicity that doesn’t rely on people casually finding us on YouTube.

    Thanks for allowing me to share.

    • Larry says:


      Thank you for sharing your story. I find this whole situation immensely frustrating. The people that YouTube depends upon to create content should have an easier way to appeal a false copyright take-down notice. Yet, YouTube erects barriers making the legitimate use of music more difficult and stressful than ever.

      It is beyond my power to correct this situation – all I can do is keep pointing it out and hope that people that DO have the power will do something to fix this.


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