Content ID Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story: Four Reasons Why Digital Fingerprinting Misses Pirated Content

TL;DR version

  • Content ID’s digital fingerprint system for automated match claims misses 40% – 60% of potential claims, leaving critical audience data and revenue on the table.
  • Digital fingerprinting technology is improving, but Content ID and similar systems have inherent limitations due to hyper short-form content, short match lengths, compilations, fan-created content, and savvy copyright violators.
  • Manual claiming (keyword searches and claims performed by a human operator) serves as a complement to automated matches.
  • Manual claiming not only presents an incremental revenue opportunity; in most cases it actually drives higher monthly earnings than automated match claims.

It’s no secret there is a substantial amount of pirated content on YouTube. In fact, over the past nine years, YouTube has paid over $2 billion to content owners for copyright claims made using its Content ID system.

Content ID, which launched in 2007, uses digital fingerprinting technology to help creators and media companies protect their intellectual property on YouTube. Rights holders deliver reference files (copies of an asset’s video or audio content), and YouTube creates a fingerprint that Content ID compares with videos uploaded by other YouTube users. When the system detects a match, a claim is issued, applying a policy selected by the rightful content owner: block (prevent video playback), track (monitor video statistics), or monetize (receive video ad revenue).

Content ID is a fantastic tool and YouTube has hundreds of talented engineers working each day to make it better, but there’s a catch. In our experience at Paladin, Content ID only detects 40% – 60% of potential video claims, leaving critical audience data and revenue on the table. It’s not Content ID or YouTube’s fault; digital fingerprinting systems have inherent limitations due to the following:

01_super-short-form-content

Super Short-Form Content

Content ID doesn’t detect matches under 30 seconds to avoid generating false positives. YouTube had to draw a line in the sand somewhere; otherwise, Content ID would return a series of poor and inapplicable matches (think black screens, stock photos, and gameplay footage).

02_clips-compilations

Clips & Compilations

If a user creates a video using short clips, Content ID may not have enough material to compare against its reference library to determine a match (i.e. “best of Vine” and fail video compilations).

03_elaborate-fan-created-content

Fan-Created Content

Some user-generated content (UGC) may infringe on a content owners’ IP but not have a reference file against which to match (i.e. fan animations based on trademarked characters).

04_savvy-copyright-violators

Savvy Copyright Violators

Blatant copyright violators will speed up or slow down footage, alter color composition, drop video frames, zoom in, rotate the picture, add borders, and employ other tactics to avoid detection by Content ID. This cat-and-mouse game is inevitable; as the digital fingerprinting technology improves, pirates will find other ways to thwart the system.  One recent, and particularly creative, example involved an entire film embedded in a 360-degree video.

Enter Manual Claiming

To help identify pirated material missed by Content ID’s automated match system, YouTube offers a manual claiming feature to YouTube Certified partners, such as media companies, digital publishers, and multi-channel networks (MCNs). Manual claiming relies on descriptive search, allowing human operators to query video metadata (titles, tags, and descriptions) to locate potential claims. This means that rights holders need staff to repeatedly search for missed content, review results, and issue claims.

Manual claiming serves as a powerful complement to Content ID’s automated matching and offers tremendous benefits to rights owners. They can:

  • Get a complete picture of their content’s consumption on YouTube, including audience and performance insights.
  • Place claims much faster than Content ID’s fingerprint system can scan a decade of reference files and user uploads, which is particularly helpful for live broadcasts, major events, and viral videos when it’s important to quickly trigger monetization.
  • Maximize earnings throughout the content’s life cycle, including advertising and YouTube Red revenue.

The potential benefits are immense, but it’s called manual claiming for a reason. The descriptive search process can be extremely tedious and time consuming, especially for large content owners.

At Paladin, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these challenges and developing productivity and workflow solutions to streamline the manual claiming process. Our Rights Monitor product automates descriptive search queries, provides intelligent results, and reduces several claiming steps to a single click. Using our technology, we’ve helped rights holders like FUNimation more than double their monthly YouTube earnings and recapture millions of dollars in lost revenue.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a large content owner or media company, we recommend an effective manual claiming strategy to provide full coverage of your content library. In addition to managing Content ID and handling dispute resolution, your copyright protection team should leverage manual claiming to monetize and collect data from third-party uploads. Ideally, you will also benefit from the audience insights that can guide future content creation, programming, and licensing opportunities.


If you’re interested in learning more about Paladin’s Rights Monitor solution and how it improves the manual claiming process, contact us.

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