You’re a conscientious YouTube small creator respecting the grind. You know you can’t use music you don’t own in your videos. And you may not be able to afford exorbitant music licensing fees–instead, like a good little YouTube boy/girl scout, you use royalty-free or public domain music.
So it shocks your good little heart when you wake up one groggy, hungover morning to a cold little message from YouTube notifying you that someone claimed copyright on one of your videos…for a public domain work. Even if they’re willing to share revenue, this can amount to thousands of dollars stolen over work you did–a huge issue if you’re trying to make a living on the platform.
How does this happen, and how can we squash these fraudulent claims?
I’m a historian with a degree from the top-ranked history program in the United States, and I’ve got a special interest in public domain work: not only do I use it in my own informal reenactment videos, but I also believe fiercely that we need to respect the legacy of deceased musicians. When a company illegally claims that they own a public domain work, they spit on the laws that make works public domain, and they violate the intellectual property of dead musicians by claiming a right only the dead musician truly ever owned.
So I’m calling on all creators to take an AGGRESSIVE stance against one of the major bad boy players in copyright fraud: Ad Rev for Rights.
Ad Rev for Rights–now conjoined with FUGA and owned by AVL Digital Group–is a YouTube partner company that supposedly protects intellectual property rights by making sure YouTube can tell when a musician’s work has been used or uploaded by someone who’s not the musician.
In reality, however, AdRev is a platform where people can upload music, claim that they own it, and then collect money whenever a YouTube account earns ad revenue on a video with that music.
This presents a really clever, nasty way for bottom-feeding leeches without any talent, drive, or sex appeal to earn big without creating anything themselves: just collect a bunch of public domain music, upload it to the AdRev platform, claim it, and rake in the dough every time YouTube’s ContentID system recognizes a public domain song in a video.
In the past, AdRev has claimed innocence. After all, they aren’t responsible for what their users do, right?
FALSE. AdRev collects revenue from these fraudulent claims, too, and according to their own marketing profile on the YouTube partners site, they’ve got “5+ decades of collective entertainment experience”, “8+ years of dedicated experience with the YouTube ContentID system,” and the infrastructure to manage “royalty accounting for 7+ million music copyrights & over 27 million videos.” They know what they’re doing.
Meanwhile, small YouTube creators DON’T. You may not even know how to file a dispute at first. And what’s especially frustrating is that after you submit a copyright dispute through the YouTube platform, AdRev might agree and release the rights to you so they don’t get in trouble, and then the next morning they might claim it again through their automated system.
Are you going to just wake up every single day and dispute copyright, or are you going to continue creating? Eventually, you get tired fighting a robot, and you either remove the song, or you let them have a share–meanwhile, AdRev and their disgusting scam-artist users continue to earn off of dead musicians and real creators.
As an additional one-two-curb-stomp to the gonads, it doesn’t have to be this way. It would be fairly easy for AdRev and YouTube to identify and protect public domain works from this fraud. There’s already a system in place to recognize music. All they’ve got to do is have an AdRev employee create a public domain account on their system, and in conjunction with YouTube make sure ContentID flags public domain works as public domain. Sure, there are millions of public domain works out there, but there are also thousands of disputes filed through the YouTube ContentID system: when these public domain works are identified, instead of simply releasing the copyright claim, AdRev could easily penalize the fraudulent accounts and label the public domain songs in the public domain account. There are also databases with the US Copyright Office that AdRev could use to begin creating their public domain identification system.
It’s not that hard.
Enough is enough. I’m calling on creators to do more than just dispute claims. It’s time to demand that AdRev for Rights and YouTube create a public domain ID bank and PUNISH fraudulent claims. These aren’t innocent mistakes or oopsies. I don’t accidentally trip over an extension cord and suddenly get up believing I own music from the 1920s.
When I want to Karen hard–and I mean ROCK HARD KAREN-SCHWARZENEGGER–I flail around violently for several hours so you don’t have to. When I got a second copyright claim on Eddie Cantor’s 1921 hit song “Margie,” I contacted the US Copyright Office, the RIAA, the IPR, and sent an angry message to AdRev’s CEO. I wasn’t far from calling his mother and telling on him, okay.
Historian Karen put in hours of research so your fight can take minutes, and the US Copyright Office actually gave me some good advice.
Here’s how we take the fight to them in just a few minutes–
and get your copy and paste fingers ready, because I’m making this as easy as I can for you.
1. First things first, the work. You’ve got to file a dispute with the platform–we can’t skip that step, even though it’s high time we moved beyond it.
Here’s how to do that. Important: before you hit “submit” on that dispute, copy and save the information you wrote in the little box, including all the links to sources demonstrating your desired song is in the public domain or royalty free. For public domain proof, the US Billboard charts is a pretty indisputable source; I also included a link to the sale of an old vinyl record proving the song was pre-1921.
2. Next, though, we need to let AdRev know we’re going to be a royal pain in the donkey derriere if they don’t start policing their users.
I know they don’t care, and we’re going to step it up to legal action in a moment. But there’s a Bible verse about a woman who wakes up an unrighteous judge every single morning with her complaint, and even though he’s an unscrupulous piece of crap, he finally gets so tired of her Karen-ing that he helps her just to make her go away. People get tired, and that’s why your next step needs to be to bother AdRev directly.
Now, they’re dirty little corporate swine, so they’ve taken down the complaint form you used to be able to use, and they’ve hidden the adrev.net website. Not a problem. Bother their staff here, and also email them at cid (at) adrev (dot) net. Copy and paste the information you wrote in your content ID dispute, and also demand that they start policing their users by creating a public domain identification account that will tell them when a user uploads something that’s public domain. You can copy and paste this paragraph if you want:
AdRev has a history of repeating these fraudulent claims even after admitting they’re false. Hold your users accountable and prevent them from uploading and claiming public domain works as their own by using the algorithms you already have in place. Your systems and YouTube ContentID recognize musical footprints in order to make claims; implement a public domain AdRev account and add public domain works to that account as they are identified in claims like my own. In conjunction with a ContentID conversation with YouTube, use that account to label public domain works and prevent them from being claimed again. Enough is enough.
COPY YOUR FULL COMPLAINT AND SAVE IT SOMEWHERE.
3. That brings us to the third step. YouTube also needs to get bothered.
They’re the ones with a ContentID system that just needs to crawl the existing public domain databases and end this nonsense. Copy the complaint you wrote to the dirty little AdRev angler fish boys, and head to the top right-hand corner of your YouTube account. Click on your sexy face. At the bottom of the menu that pops up is an option to “submit feedback.” Demand that YouTube hold AdRev accountable and disallow fraudulent users from uploading claims in the future–after all, they’ve got a copyright strike system for us. Fair is fair. Demand that YouTube use their ContentID system to maintain a database of public domain works or royalty-free that cannot be claimed, and allow musicians who want their music to be royalty-free to submit information to that database. You can copy and paste pieces of your full AdRev complaint for context, or you can just copy and paste this:
I am requesting a much-needed update to YouTube’s copyright protection system and ContentID algorithms. I am personally affected by copyright fraud on YouTube. AdRev for Rights and other users continue to fraudulently claim public domain works as their own for YouTube ad revenue, and they refuse to penalize users in their database who commit this copyright fraud. I demand that you hold AdRev accountable and implement a ban and strike system to disallow corporate violators found to submit fraudulent copyright claims from monetizing in the future–after all, you’ve got a copyright strike system for your actual creators. Fair is fair. I demand that YouTube use the existing ContentID system to maintain a database of public domain works or royalty-free that cannot be claimed, and allow musicians who want their music to be royalty-free to submit information to that database. Stop violating the rights of dead musicians and public domain law. Thank you.
Enlist the users. Make a community post or video asking your users to copy and paste the same message. Bonus points if they’re YouTube Premium customers and can throw in the “I am a paying customer” line. Yeah, it’s mega-Karen-y, but we are talking about money here.
Here’s a community post you can use:
Hey guys. Can I ask your help on something? There are companies out here crushing ad revenue for small creators by submitting copyright claims for music the companies actually don’t own. Basically, these companies will upload public domain or royalty-free music into their databases, and then when a YouTube creator uses this public domain or royalty-free music, the companies will lie and tell YouTube they own the music. They do this using automated algorithms that speak to the ContentID system. When ContentID gets a request like this from a verified company, they’ll take revenue away from the YouTuber who used the public domain music, and give it to the lying company. This doesn’t just affect creators’ ability to make a living: it violates public domain law, spits on the ownership legacy of the dead musicians who actually made the music, and threatens free speech online.
Please go the top right-hand corner of your YouTube account, click on your sexy face, and in the bottom of the menu that pops up click “submit feedback.” Please demand that YouTube hold companies like AdRev accountable for stealing public domain music. Here’s a message you can copy and paste:
“I am requesting a much-needed update to YouTube’s copyright protection system and ContentID algorithms. I am personally affected by copyright fraud on YouTube. AdRev for Rights and other users continue to fraudulently claim public domain works as their own for YouTube ad revenue, and they refuse to penalize users in their database who commit this copyright fraud. I demand that you hold AdRev accountable and implement a ban and strike system to disallow corporate violators found to submit fraudulent copyright claims from monetizing in the future–after all, you’ve got a copyright strike system for your actual creators. Fair is fair. I demand that YouTube use the existing ContentID system to maintain a database of public domain works or royalty-free that cannot be claimed, and allow musicians who want their music to be royalty-free to submit information to that database. Stop violating the rights of dead musicians and public domain law. Thank you.”
Finally, let’s get to the big scary legal stuff.
4. You can submit a legal copyright infringement counter-notification to YouTube.
That’s done here. Unlike the claim disputes and claim appeals, which are mediated by YouTube and AdRev, this is a legal notice that you have sent to YouTube, kind of like if someone sends you a DMCA. I would get out ahead of this early.
This is usually used to dispute a content take-down order or copyright strike–you know, the big scary stuff. In my case, I went ahead and submitted one even though there was no take-down demand because of the repeat nature of the offense: AdRev admitted they don’t own the video, and then 24 hours later copyright claimed it again as soon as it started taking off. That’s a really clever and sleazy way to get around any kind of legal action, because it means I’m locked up in the appeal and dispute system forever in an endless cycle. Nah, brah. I’m submitting legal action. I’m notifying. Here’s more information on the laws behind your DMCA counter-notice.
5. Seriously consider filing a complaint with the Copyright Claims Board if you lost ad revenue.
The CCB is an alternative to federal court that was established by federal law to mediate copyright infringement, noninfringement, and misrepresentation cases. If we’re talking about public domain and royalty free work, we’re talking about one of the latter.
Here’s where you file a complaint.
Is this worth your while?
Well, you can actually ask the Copyright Claims Board to award you damages. This isn’t legal advice: make SURE you’ve got evidence your song is actually in the public domain or royalty-free before filing, but I’m filing the moment the revenue I lose becomes greater than the $40 it costs to file. I’m also considering filing if their automated system picks up the same song again, demonstrating they have malignant intent to steal the revenue.
Look, I know AdRev can opt out of the CCB–and most of us don’t have the resources on our own to take them to court instead. But if you’ve actually lost ad revenue on a public domain work, isn’t it going to be more expensive for the company to take on a court case they can’t win when they could just pay you your measly $100?
Whether you file with the CCB or not, what’s especially cool about this site is that they’ve got a list of lawyers and law students who are interested in providing pro bono (free) assistance with copyright claims. Which brings us to…
6. I’d like to get a group of creators together to contact the Electronic Freedom Foundation to discuss joint legal action.
Look. As a group, it’s possible to create a Change.org petition, which mostly just annoys the related companies with bad press and lots of emails. I’ve done that kind of thing, and we can do that if you want. That might be a good thing to do.
But maybe it’s time to get legal. Because it’s ALSO possible to get with the lawyers listed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation.
Why? The EFF only takes on cases that will clearly benefit more than one person and make a meaningful impact on existing case law and precedent. I’m not going to email them on my own–this isn’t something that’s worthwhile over two bucks of ad revenue on 1k views, but when you look at YouTube as a whole, and the stolen ad revenue and time from thousands of creators, there’s a problem with a company being allowed to make fraudulent claims without being held legally accountable. Maybe it’s time for damages for a company that openly files repeat ContentID claims on the same known public domain work. Maybe making an example of this company will pressure YouTube to monitor a public domain database.
Maybe we can prove that it’s not just the users at fault, but the companies that profit off of them.
I’m collecting a database of creators affected by fraudulent AdRev ID claims here.
Join this database to have your name added to the list of victims of ContentID Fraud; upon reaching critical mass, this database will be submitted to legal advisors to demonstrate the severity of the situation and possibly request legal aid. I’m looking for a larger medium-sized creator with skin in the game and meaningful ad revenue loss to spearhead an EFF request, so if that’s you, email me through the database. If you’re a YouTube viewer, and not a creator, you can also take action: get your favorite content creators involved by sharing this article with them.
In the meantime, bother YouTube, and bother AdRev. We want to make it so annoying to file false claims, and waste so much of their time and revenue, that it’ll just be easier for them to monitor a public domain database and use a strike system for false claimants.