Youtube: With digital fingerprint against piracy

While the music streaming business is growing fast, the industry is taking a shot at YouTube, where you can listen to many songs for free. Google points to its own system for recognizing content and using it to make money.


Anyone who has ever uploaded a video to YouTube may be familiar with this. The clip contains a well-known song, for example as background music or a karaoke performance - and a short time later an e-mail from YouTube lands in your inbox. "A rights holder using Content ID is claiming content in your video," it says. And, "Don't worry, you won't get in trouble." The clip doesn't have to be deleted, it says, though the rights holder does earn from the advertising revenue generated around the video. According to Youtube, in the music space, 95 percent of song rights holders have now opted to make money via Content ID. What's more, more than 50 percent of the music industry's revenue on YouTube is generated in this way. For a long time, the industry suffered badly from piracy on the Internet. Is such a "digital fingerprint" now the way to earn good money even on free platforms?

Content ID is not enough

"No," says Florian Drücke of the German Music Industry Association (BVMI). Measures like Content ID were not enough. "It must finally be made clear that online platforms such as Youtube must also pay licenses for their content - just as Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer do," he demands. How does Content ID work exactly? Rights holders can transfer songs, but also movies or live sports streams to Youtube as a so-called reference file. This is then used to create a kind of digital fingerprint that can be used to find the material again. The Google subsidiary's data pool currently comprises around 50 million reference files with a total duration of around 600 years. This compares with the 400 hours of material uploaded to the video platform every minute worldwide. The data is compared with each other. If there is a match, both sides are informed. The rights holder has the option of blocking his content - or earning money with it.

Optimized in Zurich

The system is optimized at Google's development center in Zurich, the largest outside the USA. 1800 employees from 75 nations are employed on the premises of the former Hürlimann brewery. There, they work on the further development of Google Maps or the Street View panorama service, on the Google Assistant, or even on Content ID from YouTube. Increasingly intelligent technology is leading to faster and more precise image and sound recognition, says project manager Fabio Magagna. Even modified images, such as those in black and white or with mirrored motifs, are recognized. This also applies to music. The expert points to the video "Smells like Nerd Spirit" in which the Nirvana hit "Smells like Teen Spirit" is played exclusively by an "orchestra" of computer hardware - the rights holders also earn money from this. "It teaches the computer how to be fed," Magagna explains. Two billion dollars has been paid out to rights holders via Content ID so far, according to YouTube. Of course, the company itself also earns a lot. Exact figures are not given - only that more than half of the revenues go to the rights holders.

Criticism of Google

However, the music industry has repeatedly criticized Youtube for not giving away enough money in relation to its size. The dispute came to a head at the end of June, when more than 1,000 musicians - including stars such as Coldplay, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran - complained to the EU Commission that services such as Youtube were devaluing music with their broad free offerings. By comparison, Youtube has over one billion users. According to the latest available figures, the streaming market leader Spotify has around 100 million users - more than two-thirds of whom are satisfied with the ad-financed free version. The number two in the streaming business, Apple Music, has around 15 million paying subscription customers just over a year after its launch.

In this situation, the music industry has for some time been turning to YouTube, where many songs can be found for free. At the same time, the music companies themselves post fresh video clips on YouTube to make the songs more popular. Currently, new licensing negotiations are underway between the music companies and Youtube. "Spotify pays an estimated $18 a year for each user, Youtube less than a dollar. This creates an unfair business advantage, which at the same time undermines the value of music," says BVMI head Drücke. Youtube does not want to accept this comparison: You can't compare services that cost $10 a month with an ad-supported offering, he says. "That's like me comparing a cab driver's revenue from his customers with the revenue from advertising in the cab," says Youtube manager Christophe Muller. (Jenny Tobien/SDA/DPA)

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