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Why Music Licensing and YouTube Are Officially Frenemies

Why Music Licensing and YouTube Are Officially Frenemies

Why Music Licensing and YouTube Are Officially FrenemiesYes, Music Dealers knows that today’s music licensor has enough to watch out for: publishing, legal, creative, budgeting, etc., etc. But, to ensure you keep yourself covered, and are avoiding a daily regimen of banging your head on your desk while muttering curse words under your breath, we’ll be adding one more item to your music licensing watch list.

A dilemma is beginning to emerge for music licensors who post content to the largest video sharing site on earth, YouTube. A system designed to help compensate artists is beginning to piss off music licensors.

It’s becoming like that one friend who is pretty cool most of the time, but you sometimes secretly hate—the frenemy.

The Story

In a frenzy, a long-time client of Music Dealers called up one of our directors of business development. She expressed great concern about whether or not Music Dealers or its artists had any intention of monetizing content posted on YouTube through paid advertising.

Monetizing content posted on YouTube through paid advertising??

She told the story of vexing issue her agency had recently encountered after uploading a video to YouTube. She received an angry phone call from her client (a brand) who saw that there were advertisements running on their YouTube video. The brand called to find out if her agency was responsible. For a major brand or agency, another company’s advertisements appearing on your YouTube video is a terrible look. Caught off guard, and without an excuse to lean on, she scrambled to discover the source of the ads, picking up the phone to question everyone involved in the project. Finally, she identified the licensed song as the culprit.

The plot thickens.

She called the artist and gave an account of the situation. The artist explained that he had recently been approached by a YouTube ad monetization company and decided to join. The artist realized that one of the songs provided to this company was the song licensed by her agency. The artist had to contact the monetization firm to remove the ads from the video. This situation could have harmed her relationship with her client, a potentially disastrous situation for her agency. Her agency did nothing wrong, yet was left with a mess to untangle, and experience that left her leery.

YouTube’s Content ID System

YouTube’s Content ID system was created with good intentions. It’s designed to be a smart way for individuals or companies to track the use of their copyrighted sonic material. And it’s a system designed to help compensate artists, and create an effective means to monetize the unofficial use of an artist’s music.

Musicians, producers, composers, and artists who have joined this system can upload their music and set their account to automatically process instances where their content is being used on a video in one of three ways:

  • Monetize - placing ads on the content in question
  • Block - the content in question may be removed or muted, and this option can vary by country.
  • Track - the content owner can simply track your video’s analytics in their account.

Let’s say that I’m an aspiring artist. I’ve got some popular songs floating around the net. My songs seem to work really well with cat videos, and lots of teenage kids like to use my songs to create silly videos of their cats doing irresistibly cute things. None of these teenagers have my permission to use my song as cat video theme music. So, I register with YouTube’s Content ID system, and whenever YouTube “hears” my song in a cat video, based on my settings, it automatically places an ad on those videos. When those ads generate money, I get a cut. Happy teenager. Happy cats. Happy compensated artist.

How YouTube’s Content ID System Challenges Music Licensing

YouTube’s Content ID system and music licensing are both great tools that can really help an artist (friends). But, there are two ways these concepts can clash (frenemies):

1) Poor Record Keeping By Artists

Artist A has registered 100 songs to YouTube’s Content ID system or a third-party intermediary company. Artist A also licenses some of those songs through several nonexclusive music licensing libraries. There’s overlap between the songs YouTube is watching and songs being legally used.

If Artist A, who legally licenses music, is not diligent about excluding licensed material from YouTube’s tracking, the potential for your content to be blocked, monetized, or tracked, arises.

Artists are usually wrestling with the mechanics of a song, playing shows, or doing artist things. They may not think that far ahead. And, YouTube isn’t going to remind them by saying,

Hey, you’re not licensing any of the songs in our Content ID system, are you? Because if you are, that may piss off your licensee.

More challenging is that an artist may keep accurate records and stay on top of these administrative details, but still run into a problem. An artist may work with several different music licensing companies, all of which may take months to report a license, and not know a license has occured. The song remains in Youtube’s system, and as a traffic light systematically switches between red, yellow, and green, so does the Content ID’s system with regards to content containing that music.

2) There Are A Lot More Copyright Holders Joining The Party

As a service, third-party companies (web ad monetization companies) act as intermediaries between artists and YouTube, handling the process of joining the system, uploading content, and monitoring accounts. Web Ad Monetization Companies aggregate thousands of users and millions of songs, and handle the administrative process for their users.

Also, companies that have long provided services to artist ranging from ecommerce to distribution are now, as a service, administering YouTube Content ID accounts for their artists.

With intermediary monetization companies involved, the number of artists, producers, composers, publishers & labels associated with YouTube’s Content ID system have exploded. More copyright holders involved means it’s more likely to run into an issue like our client.

Unfortunately, this situation will not be going away.

What You, Music Licensor, Should Do

An inquiry on YouTube Monetization should go on your music licensing company “shopping list” of questions to ask while researching companies to hop into bed with.

If this situation is encountered, the uploader must go through the process of disputing the claim with the original copyright holder. What’s tricky is that we don’t know what the dispute process looks like when a third-party company is behind that account—another potential hurdle to jump.

How Music Dealers Is Handling This

Discussions have been had. Our brightest have examined and evaluated the situation. Minds have churned, debates have ensued; chins were scratched, and beards were stroked. There’s no magic answer for easily solving this conundrum.

But, we can help.

As this blog article was being developed, a client called Music Dealers to understand why ads to purchase music from the artist licensed from us were appearing on their video.

Suspecting the artist had an arrangement with YouTube’s Content ID system or an intermediary company, we got in touch with the artist so we could solve the problem. As explained above, the artist had not made the connection between their monetization settings and songs they were legally licensing, hence the appearance of ads on that video. Within 48 hours, we were able to work with the artist and their third-party company to have the ads removed.

And we can educate.

Music Dealers will inform its community of artists of the potential complications that can arise if they haphazardly utilize YouTube’s Content ID system, or join a company that monetizes YouTube’s ads. Music Dealers will educate artists about what they would be getting involved with and how their actions may affect businesses that have paid to license their music. Better educated artists reduce the chance of our clients encountering this situation.

Where Music Dealers Stands

Music Dealers has been approached by firms looking to ingest our entire catalog of music, then monetize videos on YouTube containing our music.

This would be like sending our clients through a live landmine on a pogo stick. Associating with YouTube’s Content ID system would mean substantial extra work for our clients. We’re here to make things easier for you, not create nightmares. Very consciously, we have declined.

Other sync licensors may consider joining with these third party companies. These music licensing entities (including labels and publishers) will be lured by the opportunity to capitalize off the cash potential, while ignoring the probable video claim challenges of licensors who officially acquire music.

For our artists, Music Dealers would never enter into an agreement with a web monetization company, feed the songs you’ve entrusted us with into their system, and collect a piece of the revenue earned while we figure out the complicated system of paying you. That’s just now how Music Dealers gets down.

There are companies who see dollars first and don’t think twice about getting involved with opportunities like that. Choose wisely when seeking companies to represent your music.

Music Dealers deeply assesses our business relationships with our artist and client communities in mind, thinking both short and long-term when analyzing the benefits for all parties involved.


Music licensing and YouTube’s Content ID system are both tools designed to help artists make a living. But they’re not playing together too well in the sandbox.

Artists, be sure to keep good records and know what songs belong to what licensing company. Know which songs are being monitored on YouTube. Make yourself available and ready to help with Content ID claims. Time is usually of the essence.

Licensors! As this situation becomes more frequent, the level of customer service provided by your music licensing vendor will be one of the most critical pieces of the Content ID problem. If encountered, you’ll end up on the phone with your sync company, and how they handle your needs will make all the difference.

Music Dealers would love to assure current and future clients that in working with our company, you’ll never deal with Content ID claims. But, that’s not something Music Dealers can guarantee. Music Dealers wouldn’t ask the artists we represent to disassociate with YouTube’s program, and wouldn’t seek to limit what an artist can do with their own music.

Through education, monitoring the situation, and being a resource, we’ll do our best to make sure this situation is a spiderweb our clients walk into as infrequently as possible.

By: Christopher Rucks, Music Dealers

Reader Comments (1)

Omg yet another daft article. Why would a big brand be using YouTube and not expect to pay for the licensing of music? The musician should not have to remove the ads as the brand is going beyond their scope. You have no right to tell musicians to limit their songs for sync to those which have no content ID claims. Sorry you should not be using YouTube in that case.

April 10 | Unregistered CommenterKenny

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