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. Larry, please convey my deepest sympathies to Tony (and I am a subscriber to his excellent channel, and a fellow cruiser, as well as YT program maker).

    What he describes is why we have never monetised our YT channel: too many scammers out there. It is also the #1 reason we use zero music, no matter how sourced, on our many videos.

  2. It’s a nightmare, and not just for music. We produce a weekly broadcast TV show here in Australia called “In Pit Lane” which, as the name suggests is a weekly news program about local and international motorsport.
    Almost everyweek we are being hit for potential copyright strikes from YouTube, sometimes for footage that we have actually shot ourselves.
    The concept of fair use or fair dealing as it is termed here in Australia is irrelevant to YouTube.
    We have had supplied VNRs claimed by the people that supplied them. Footage of a Formula Renault race at Monaco (that we had the rights for) was flagged as copyright by Formula One because the Content ID was not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a Formula Renault and an F1 car.
    It took almost 8 months to get that cleared up.
    The system is very badly broken.

    • Larry says:


      Thanks for your comments. I have no idea how to fix this – but at the least we can draw attention to the problem. Feel free to share this story with others.


  3. Cole Black says:

    This is becoming a nightmare and has happened repeatedly with my own channel (40k subs, 400+ videos, 15 million views) growing in frequency more recently.

    I’ve mainly used Artlist for music the last few years and they’ve been great at getting difficult claims resolved but it’s such a time consuming pain to have to deal with and to get them involved in the first place.

    I’m lucky enough to have a fanbase that supports our content on Patreon and haven’t monetised YouTube in years if ever. So luckily that side of things doesn’t effect me directly other than the annoyance someone else is trying to make money off our work.

  4. Patrick Flaherty says:

    Larry, As a school system we have a yearly subscription to Smart Sounds and I have gotten notices about smartsound music that i use for my board meetings. I have gotten warnings from YT about copyright issues and I have just sent a reply that I have paid for the music and that is usually the end to it. I did get a lot of notices about music that I was using for our graduations on YT live stream. I uploaded the music that we were going to use before the live streams and although I got notices about copyright issues YT Live didn’t stop the stream or the upload. Unfortunately it took such a long time for our school system to agree to allow us to use YT that this is very concerning. Many of the other school systems in MD have gone to Vimeo so I may have to look into it. Thanks for the information.

  5. B.J. Ahlen says:

    This is a classical case of “a middle manager who is afraid to ask his more experienced boss about a key decision.”

    I had a similar problem more than 20 years ago where my repeated requests for release were totally ignored.

    So I got the fax number for Big Corp’s In-House Corporate Legal Counsel and sent a short, polite fax explaining why they didn’t have a choice.

    20 minutes(!) later my phone rang. It was their Chief Counsel letting me know that the problem had been taken care of, and could I please accept their apologies?

    In the case of YouTube, escalate this to the top with a very very short explanation of the problem, how it is making school systems and others move to Vimeo, and how it could expose YouTube to charges of aiding and abetting criminal fraud, with accompanying lovely publicity…

    It might take 20 hours rather than 20 minutes, but I think the top brass there would understand the problem immediately.

  6. Paul Healy says:

    I have a YouTube channel that is not monetised and is used only for material I have the right to. Recently, I had a video restricted because of a vexatious claim by an anonymous viewer. The YouTube notice stated that I was in breach of their Child Content policy, but as I pointed out: 1) the video was uploaded before their Child Content policy was formulated and had been running with no complaints for over nine years. 2) I do not claim any monetisation right and still, they insist on running ads on my material. They turned down my appeal. It seems that they only offer a ‘show cause’ option as a pro forma gesture. In my country, this is called ‘covering your butt’ (actually, the real term is only for R-rated forums). Sayonara, YouTube.

    • George says:

      Paul, I also had an older video struck down by YouTube under their new “Child Content Policy”. Simultaneously the video was also struck by one of those baseless claims against SmartSound music.

      Original video for this travel short was taken by me in Tiananmen Square, April 2001. Today I vividly recall the oppressive sight of marching Chinese army patrols.
      My travel vignettes are mostly humorous, but that emotion inspired an editorial edit that intermixed news photos from the 1989 massacre. In particular, the title frame displays what must be the not-child-friendly cover of Time Magazine.

      I wondered about YouTube’s true motivations in taking this video down. So I re-edited and re-posted. Now there is no soundtrack; I begrudgingly checked the description boxes for “not suitable for children”.

      Then I superimposed a lower-third title:
      “Censored by YouTube in collaboration with those who want to re-write history.”

  7. Gregg Hall says:

    We are often requested to livestream our client’s events on YouTube. We use music from their copyright-free library and this avoids the hassle of fraudulent claims, BUT, as we know their music is marginal at best.

    Like many others, we favor Vimeo to avoid this hassle. However, the DMCA is threatening to sue Vimeo if they allow so-called copyrighted music on their platform. As a result Vimeo is putting their customers on notice that they will allow DMCA to issue take-down notices. You can’t win!

  8. Clayton Moore says:

    Clearly the sheer volume of content, and the fact that YouTube’s revenue stream is not necessarily effected either way, allows them to be “lazy and apathetic” about this.

    There is no question there is fraud here and Youtube needs to figure it out. Here is what YouTube should do.

    A new standard across the board where anyone who wants to sell music for any reason has the copyright information embedded into metadata. Not like DRM, per se, just info that the Youtube’s of the world have it and can read and store that. When a claimant tries to file a claim, that claim has to be in the correct format to match that metadata or the claim is rejected and the claimant needs to appeal.

    If the YouTube creator uses music that does not include that information, then THEY are on the hook.

    But, in my opinion, YouTube needs to spend the time up front to work with music providers and to reengineer a scalable solution that protects uploaders and musicians, but in such a way as to put the onus where it actually belongs and in such aways as to marginalize the bad actors.

    Its like once the uploader has “proof of purchase” as it were, and in the proper encrypted format and its all embedded and stored, then if a someone files a copy write claim, they get an message back (some legal wording) saying that music in question has meet Youtube license requirements. If the claimant disagrees THEY have to contact the the service who sold that music, which is
    listed in the file, then if needed appeal back to YouTube etc etc etc.

    This is on YouTube now, they need to either act good faith instead or just take the money and turn their back.

    The sheer size and monopolistic ubiquity of big tech is looking more and more like a pretty bad thing.

    My 2 cents

  9. It has been very interesting to read the comments in response to my original mail to Larry. The majority of the claims being made against me were for videos made up to 11 years ago. At that time I was restricted to videos up to 10 minutes long and most of the music I used came from Smartsound. I never kept a detailed record of what music I used for each video because it wasn’t necessary so to go back and identify it all those years later is almost impossible. As I have found out to my cost, even to go back and eliminate a targeted track and re-upload the result lays you open to more attacks on other tracks because the new video will be a new upload and because the scammers see you as a sucker. It’s a bit like responding to a scammed phone call which also plague us all. I even had a claim for a piece of traditional Scottish music played by a police pipe band in a street procession on Prince Edward Island which I had videoed!

    More recently, during Covid, I re-packaged these short videos into longer ones and it has been many of these which have been targeted even though the same music was OK before. I think this must partly be because recognition software has progressed to the point where it is more efficient. Some of the claimants are outright scammers who see an opportunity to rip creators off and try it on – just in case. One of them even calls himself Justin Case! Others are music creators who, having worked with Smartsound, have decided to change the name of a piece of music and distribute it with another company. In any case the situation is now impossible.

    I don’t intend to upload any more videos on You Tube because I am so mad at being labeled a thief. Of course I will be the loser and You Tube (Google) don’t care with their enormous uploads every second. I guess that, as has been stated, it’s only a matter of time before the scammers attack Vimeo.

    As Clayton Moore said, it is up to You Tube to do something to make the claimant prove that their claim is based on facts. But I’m sure they won’t bother. Right now anyone can claim and if the creator doesn’t or can’t prove they paid for it, then the phony claimant and You Tube ruin the video and take the money.
    I will say that I have had great support from Smartsound and every company from whom I have purchased music but it’s a major pain for them and a real threat to their business. I will certainly keep a tight record of what music I use for each new video and from whom I purchased it – but what a pain!

    • Larry says:


      Thanks for your original article. I find these all these comments especially depressing – because there’s nothing we can do to prevent this abuse. Until YouTube changes their rules – and there’s certainly no incentive for them to do so – media creators will be held hostage by their music. The frustration this must cause to music companies like Smartsound is immense. The only option that I see is for us to bring this issue to light and increase public awareness of the problem. I still hope that change, though unlikely, is still possible.


  10. TRX says:

    Music in YouTube is generally something I Do Not Want. At best, it’s annoying. At worst, I can’t make out speech behind the noise.

    Unless you have some specific need for music, why not leave it out? “Because everyone else is adding music” isn’t a reasonable excuse.

    • Larry says:


      I agree, in general, that music is WAAAY overused in many situations today – especially interviews. But, there are other instances where music is as critical to the presentation as the picture. It is for these projects that YouTube is causing a lot of grief to folks who are properly licensing music.


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