In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm. 

In the last entry of this series I have described how YouTube’s Content ID system effectively re-introduces registration requirements into copyright, even though international treaties such as the Berne Convention forbid such requirements. With its most recent additions to YouTube’s rights management infrastructure, YouTube owner Google brings the former’s rights clearing services to a whole new level.

Previously, creators using copyrighted material such as contemporary pop music in one of their videos could only try to upload their videos and hope for the best (i.e. no recognition by the Content ID algorithm) or the second best (i.e. recognition by the Content ID algorithm but acceptance/monetization by rights holders). In any case, creators could only definitely know after making and uploading a video whether and how YouTube’s algorithms would react.

In a recent blog post, YouTube has announced substantial changes to this system:

But until now there was no way to know what would happen if you used a specific track until after you hit upload. Starting today, you can search the YouTube Audio Library to determine how using a particular track in your video will affect it on YouTube, specifically if it will stay live on YouTube or if any restrictions apply. You can uncross those uploading fingers now!

The screenshot below depicts the respective information on the song “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift – a particulary telling example, since Swift has pulled all of her songs from the streaming service Spotify. When using Swift’s song you waive your own rights to monetize the video and it won’t be viewable in Germany (because Google has not successfully negotiated remuneration with German collecting societies such as the GEMA so far). In other words, YouTube’s Audio Library offers a one-stop shop for clearing rights of musical works, thereby allowing rights holders to grant or refuse permissions for each country individually.


In addition to “Ad-supported music” YouTube offers a catalogue of “Free music”, which may even allow video creators to monetize their videos, depending on the respective license. As of today, YouTube does not provide information on the specific licenses of works in the free music section (e.g. what Creative Commons license) but it should not be too difficult to add such a feature in the future.

Taken together, these changes both increase transparency of the Content ID algorithm and strengthen YouTube/Google’s position as the transnational rights clearing center for using music in online videos of all sorts. However, some of the downsides of such a private regulation approach to solving the calamaties of copyright in the digital era prevail: first, rights holders might change their mind any time, revoking the permission to use a song in a given video and making it instantly inavailble across the board. Second, rights clearing only works on YouTube’s proprietary platform and according to remuneration rules negotiated between Google and rights holders; this further strengthens Youtube’s already dominant position in the market place. Third, use of content under fair use or other limitations and exceptions to copyright are still difficult to resolve via algorithm and will continue to result in false attribution of rights. Fourth, Content ID still works well only for music; re-using video content in mashups or remix works still provides major obstacles for rights clearing.


PS: See also a German post on this issue at