YouTube’s new policy on song snippets will cost musicians big bucks

YouTube won’t be helping musicians track down and demand payment from people who use tiny snippets of their music – less than 10 seconds’ worth – any longer.

“Including someone else’s content without permission – regardless of how short the clip is – means your video can still be claimed and copyright owners will still be able to prevent monetization or block the video from being viewed,” the platform’s management writes on its Creator Blog. “However, going forward, our policies will forbid copyright owners from using our Manual Claiming tool to monetize creator videos with very short or unintentional uses of music. This change only impacts claims made with the Manual Claiming tool, where the rightsholder is actively reviewing the video.”

What does that actually mean?

Let’s build this up to break it down.

YouTube won’t allow a musician to claim short snippets of their songs in another work. If that were applied to some of Ariana Grande’s hits, some 9% of her total income from the most popular songs right now would vanish, totaling about $700,000.

That’s all from fragments measuring under 10 seconds.

“If someone is uploading just the key hook of your song, you can no longer monetize it,” explained Amadea Choplin, chief operating officer for Pex, a company that has statistics and data on some 20 billion songs and videos, or content that’s four times greater than YouTube’s current library.

Artists who identify such a small portion of their song in someone else’s work can still file a takedown notice with YouTube, but those usually require consulting lawyers. Someone who has a team of lawyers might not think twice about filing a takedown notice, Choplin said, but some artists might not find it worth the hassle because there’s no money to be made from detecting unauthorized use any more.

According to Pex’s data, artists responsible for the 20 hit songs of the moment would lose about 9%, on average, of their YouTube monetization potential. For some artists, it’s as high as 20%.

Keep in mind, there’s no legal parameter for how much of a song can be used and be considered fair use, she said. “There’s nothing that says one second is fair use. There are sample cases where less that that (is found and claimed and the artist suing won). It’s not determined by length. The fair use (argument) doesn’t hold.”

It’s possible some artists might be angered by this change in policy, while some video creators might see this as a gift from YouTube. But overall, this appears to be another situation in which YouTube is dictating policy and practices to the music industry, while claiming to be a big supporter of artists.

Choplin also notes that more and more platforms are geared toward short content, from Instagram stories to samples in YouTube songs.

And just because musicians aren’t making money off fragments of songs on YouTube, that doesn’t mean the platform – and others – aren’t still raking in the dough.

In the Creator Blog post that spells out this change in practice, YouTube says this change is “intended to improve fairness in the creator ecosystem, while still respecting copyright owners’ rights to prevent unlicensed use of their content.”

The company encourages musicians to use unlicensed content in new videos and to rely on its Audio Library for songs that can be used fair and freely. If a copyrighted song is used and later identified, it offers the use of editing tools to eliminate the portion in question.

“Of course, if you feel that your use qualifies for an exception to copyright, like fair use, be sure you understand what that means and how our dispute process works before uploading your video,” the blog continues.

YouTube insists this is all in the name of fairness, but fair to which side of the equation – the original artists who can no longer claim fragments of a song used by someone else, or the person who cleverly carves out less than 10 seconds of music and posts under a shield of YouTube’s protection?

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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