Can YouTube Force Ads On Your Video Content? Keep An Eye On Your Soundtrack

Can YouTube Force Ads On Your Video Content? Keep An Eye On Your Soundtrack

YouTube seems to have adopted Google's talent for slipping in quirky new ad placement algorithms with barely a note on the fridge about what's going on. In my job with an online competitive intelligence (SpyFu) company, I often hear about the sudden changes on the Google side. Since I'm usually the one at the company creating and putting content on YouTube, it's usually me who finds the changes on the video end. This is a recent discovery I made when YouTube placed an ad on one of our new internal company videos, without permission.

SpyYouTube Put Ads On Your Video Content Without Permission?

A couple of weeks ago, the SpyFu team hit Las Vegas for PubCon and added Indoor Skydiving to their adventures. The skydiving company caught their "jumps" on video (complete with Alien Ant Farm's "Smooth Criminal" playing in the background) and gave us a copy that we could cut up and put online. Since these were just internal videos, I decided to leave the song in there when I cut it up. I uploaded the first video to YouTube, and changed its privacy settings to "Unlisted.”

I've done this process hundreds of times before, but this time, something was different. There was an advertisement on my video.

I thought that was weird, we've never allowed general ads on our videos. Also, YouTube has only requested to include ads on a handful our most popular videos, not new unlisted ones with only 3 views. Did YouTube just start automatically putting ads on all of our new content, without permission? I was about to rage.

Instead, I decided to experiment. I uploaded the same video to one of my personal channels, which has no public content, no subscribers, hardly any views. An ad popped up on that one too! I had a theory, and uploaded the same video, with the audio dropped out. The ad was gone.

Alien Ant Farm was the reason for the ad, however the ad itself, was not music related. It was for a local car dealership, and then tax software.

Can YouTube Force Ads On Your Video Content? Keep An Eye On Your Soundtrack

These were ads targeted towards me, automatically placed on the video because of the copyrighted song.

Now, using copyrighted music in a video is rarely a best practice, especially a company video. If your video has been identified with a copyrighted song that you don't own the rights to, the YouTube/Record Company overlords have complete control whether your video gets ripped of the web, and they often do this right at the height of the video's popularity.

They clearly have good music identification software if they're able to identify the Alien Ant Farm song upon upload. Supposedly a video with ANY copyrighted song could fall victim to this automatic ad placement… right?

Some Informal Testing

I wanted to test the threshold of this, so I started adding different songs underneath the same video.

• An album version of a reasonably popular song – Ad was placed

• An album version of a cover of the the same song (not by the original artist, but still sold on Amazon) – No Ad

• An in-home cover of the same song – No Ad

• A live performance of the another popular song by the same band – No Ad

• An obscure, but copyrighted, song from a video game title – No Ad

Only the album recording of the reasonably popular copyrighted song was recognizable enough to have an ad was placed on it. The rest were ignored.

So it seems that no, not every copyrighted song will be automatically recognized, and thus will not be pinned with an ad. It's probably hit and miss on how popular a song has to be in order for the recognition software to correctly identify it. However, even if the software doesn't recognize it right away, that doesn't mean it won't escape the detection of human ears at some point and be put through the same treatment.

This is good information to have, but it still leaves the question, why would a recognizable song have an ad attached to it in the first place? And where is the money flowing?

Let me back up a little. First, if a YouTube video of yours (or better, your entire channel) becomes popular you can choose to "Monetize" your videos. People who choose to do this, basically choose to allow YouTube to put Google ads on their video, and thus get paid for the views and clicks off of those ads.

The key here is that you have a choice to allow this or not. For a company channel, monetizing is definitely not a best practice. The little money you might make from the Google ads are not worth having your message interrupted by someone else's ad.

Second, when the song is identified as "purchasable" they automatically insert links on the video page so anyone can quickly buy the song from iTunes or Amazon Mp3. These links make sense: if you hear a song you like on a video, you can download it right there.

In my Alien Ant Farm scenario, they included those links, but they also included an ad on the video itself.

A YouTube Toll For Using Copyrighted Music?

Something to keep in mind, I will not make money off of either of these. My channel has not been monetized and I will not see a dime from the views and clicks. It seems as though this ad is acting more like a toll, automatically enforced by YouTube, the forced cost of using intellectual property.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that this is a bad thing, but it makes me wonder who is making money off this ad? Obviously, if someone purchases the song from iTunes or Amazon, that's more cut and dry, but if someone clicks on the ad for the car dealership, who makes the money off that click? Is it the record company, the artist, or YouTube?

Maybe it's not a toll from Google or YouTube. It's a toll against them: record companies forcing YouTube to place ads on videos that have been identified with copyrighted music and then linking these ads to the record companies' Adsense accounts, thus gaining immediate revenue from the views and clicks.

I don't have an answer. But I think the experiment itself was enlightening. I don't know how I feel about YouTube being able to put ads on my content without permission; it doesn't feel like they should be allowed that much power. Of course the catch is: if you complain about it, you're simply reporting your own copyright infringement.

If you want to avoid this hassle, there are several quality stock music sites out there where you can buy good music, and their licensing, for cheap ($40 or so.) But if you DO choose to use a popular song, even one from 10 years ago, at the very least expect the viewer's engagement to be broken by the visuals of Used Ford SUVs... at least for a moment.

I never really liked Alien Ant Farm anyway.

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Posted in YouTube Marketing
About Our Contributing Author - Patrick McGrane
Patrick McGrane is the video editor, animator and producer for www.SpyFu.com and for the www.youtube.com/SpyFuTeam channel. You can reach him at patrick@spyfu.com, especially if you think his videos are totally awesome.



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What do you think? ▼
  • http://www.vogel.de Matthias Dieckhoff

    Hi Patrick,
    maybe i can give you some hints about whats going on with the ads.

    As YouTube-Partners we have been upgraded to an professional account including Content-ID Tracking, Youtube CMS and some other stuff.

    With the Content-ID System any Video and Audiofile we are uploading will generate a unique ID. If any video on YouTube matches the Audio-ID or the Video-ID we will get a message an can choose to:
    1. Take the video down
    2. Take the video down by region ("this content is not available in your region...")
    2. Release our claim
    3. Monetize the video (even if its not uploaded by us)
    4. Just track it so see how our content is moving around
    5. Do nothing

    What happened to your video is very simple. The copyright owner (musiccompany) uploaded a reference file of the song to the youtube-cms and they put a simple rule under it: If anyone uses our song -> put an ad in the video that leads to our shop.

    Generally the money from the monetized content goes to the claim-owner (the one who uploaded the reference file).

    In my opinion the content-id system is a good thing. It gives the copyright-owners the opportunity to make some money with "ripped" stuff in the videos as they will never be able to prevent that people will use their famous music in their videos without thinking about the laws.

    Hope that helps a little :)

    Kind Regards
    Matthias

  • http://morebiggervideo.com Mark McKay

    I have worked extensively with the YouTube CMS for content partners. I think I can explain what is happening. YouTube has a fingerprinting and auto-claim technology that allows it's partners to automatically monetize videos that contain snippets of their content in them.

    What has likely happened is: the record company has uploaded the song or video and they have turned the fingerprinting on and set the policy to auto-claim so that when anyone uploads a video with that song in it ads are automatically ad to them.

  • Mark McKay

    I have worked extensively with the YouTube CMS for content partners. I think I can explain what is happening. YouTube has a fingerprinting and auto-claim technology that allows it's partners to automatically monetize videos that contain snippets of their content in them.

    What has likely happened is: the record company has uploaded the song or video and they have turned the fingerprinting on and set the policy to auto-claim so that when anyone uploads a video with that song in it ads are automatically ad to them.

  • Cara Platinumberg

    I can second Mark here. Also, this is not at all new to YouTube.

    YT Partners using the CMS can choose to monetize or to block UGC matched via ContentID.

    YouTube doesn't need your permission to put ads on content that you don't fully own. You are the one who needs the permission of the music companies to use their music. And in this case, they've given it to you, by having a monetize policy in place instead of a BLOCK policy. This also spares you copyright strikes on your account.

    When the ads are clicked, most of the revenue goes to the music companies & artists.

  • Bill Mecca

    I haven't had ads pop up yet, but a couple videos did get flagged as "matching third party content" and an indication I don't have to do anything, but ads might pop up. the music is from several royalty-free libraries that we have licensed. These were videos for work, and at the moment are unlisted, but based on who I work for, ads are NOT an option in any way shape or form. We'll have to battle them over it. It's becoming a royal PITA.

  • Mark Whitman

    There are several good websites that offer free duty-free songs as well. I've also discovered that some Idie artists (I've asked 7 and 6 agreed) will gladly give you limited use of their songs just for the exposure alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=163902675 Patrick McGrane

    Thank you for all of the insight. I should have stressed further that I do not believe that this is a bad policy, but an intriguing one. Cara makes an excellent point in that using copyrighted music means that you do not fully own the content that is being posted, and thus YouTube has some control over it, and rightfully so. I do believe a Monetize policy is better than a Block Policy. With further investigation, I found that if you saturate a video with different copyrighted songs, they will block it outright.

    To Mark's point, I'm happy to know that it is some kind of fingerprint, auto-claim technology. That seemed to be what was happening.

    Again, I was expecting the purchase links would be attached, but the automatic ad threw me off. Knowing an ad will be posted on your content should be an even stronger case for you to not use copyrighted music on content that you want to be focused and engaging. For our SpyFuTeam YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/SpyFuTeam) I use Shockwave-Sound.com pretty much exclusively, they have good music, especially for epic trailer type videos. But Mark brings up a great point of using Indie artists, I think if they're music compliments your content, and doesn't distract from the main message, it could be a fantastic option.

    Thanks again for all the comments, they were very helpful. It is good to know that most of the money for the clicks are going to the music companies and artists, that was the big question mark for me.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/SpyFuTeam Patrick McGane

    Thank you for all of the insight. I should have stressed further that I do not believe that this is a bad policy, but an intriguing one. Cara makes an excellent point in that using copyrighted music means that you do not fully own the content that is being posted, and thus YouTube has some control over it, and rightfully so. I do believe a Monetize policy is better than a Block Policy. With further investigation, I found that if you saturate a video with different copyrighted songs, they will block it outright.

    To Mark's point, I'm happy to know that it is some kind of fingerprint, auto-claim technology. That seemed to be what was happening.

    Again, I was expecting the purchase links would be attached, but the automatic ad threw me off. Knowing an ad will be posted on your content should be an even stronger case for you to not use copyrighted music on content that you want to be focused and engaging. For our SpyFuTeam YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/SpyFuTeam) I use Shockwave-Sound.com pretty much exclusively, they have good music, especially for epic trailer type videos. But Mark brings up a great point of using Indie artists, I think if they're music compliments your content, and doesn't distract from the main message, it could be a fantastic option.

    Thanks again for all the comments, they were very helpful. It is good to know that most of the money for the clicks are going to the music companies and artists, that was the big question mark for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10176951978 Productiontrax.com

    Youtube's content matching software has come a long way, but still needs some work. We provide royalty free music for multimedia (some use the tracks in Youtube videos) at productiontrax.com. From time to time our customers might see an ad added to their video because of copyright even though they've legitimately licensed the music for use in their video from our site. That said, we've heard much fewer complaints in recent months.

  • sopranodelacruz

    I am having the same problem except they are automatically putting ads on videos (in which I sing classical songs and arias) of me singing live.  It is driving me crazy because it is a live performance of myself singing classical music that is in public domain and they are trying to make money off of it without my permission! The company GoDigital is claiming that my live performances are owned by someone else...  I'll dispute and but they would automatically deny my claim.  What should I do?

    • http://www.reelseo.com/ reelseo

       @sopranodelacruz Are you sure it's public domain?

      • sopranodelacruz

         @reelseo Yes, I am very sure. The music includes Mozart and Strauss. All of their music is in public domain. A lot of music from the classical era to post romantic era are in public domain.  If it was music by John Adams that is fine because he is indeed still living, but the music I was singing is not protected by the copyright laws.

        • http://www.reelseo.com/ reelseo

           @sopranodelacruz That is odd.  Can you post a link to the video? 

  • sopranodelacruz

    I am having the same problem except they are automatically putting ads on videos (in which I sing classical songs and arias) of me singing live.  It is driving me crazy because it is a live performance of myself singing classical music that is in public domain and they are trying to make money off of it without my permission! The company GoDigital is claiming that my live performances are owned by someone else...  I'll dispute and but they would automatically deny my claim.  What should I do?

    • http://www.reelseo.com/ reelseo

       @sopranodelacruz Are you sure it's public domain?

      • sopranodelacruz

         @reelseo Yes, I am very sure. The music includes Mozart and Strauss. All of their music is in public domain. A lot of music from the classical era to post romantic era are in public domain.  If it was music by John Adams that is fine because he is indeed still living, but the music I was singing is not protected by the copyright laws.

        • http://www.reelseo.com/ reelseo

           @sopranodelacruz That is odd.  Can you post a link to the video? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.shaheen.73 David Shaheen

    Great article, answered all my questions. My wife is a music artist (amandavernon.com) and I just noticed an ad on one of her more popular videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zER0FzkknBY. I was a bit upset because I did not choose to monetize with Google. Then I found your article and realized how this might have happened to her song: She is an independent artist and uses a company called CD baby to distribute her songs digitally. I recently agreed to an option to allow youtube to license her song to people who want to use it in their videos. That must be what happened! But, the is the official video we posted. I don't want ads on it. I am yet to receive any money and I dont think it would be worth it anyway.

  • Tim Johnson

    I've had this happen with a few of my videos. I did a little digging in Youtube's policies and found out that the whoever owns the music can choose to monetize your video, so I assume they will be paid for the ads. Here is a snippet from Youtube's monetization policy.

    "With many Content ID policies, your video will still be viewable on YouTube, but the content owner may choose to monetize or track the video."

  • Tim Johnson

    I posted a video of a vigil for the 19 firefighters who lost their lives fighting a wildfire in Arizona. At the end of the ceremony a Phoenix Fire Department bagpiper plays Amazing Grace. Youtube said the music he was playing "matched third-party content." I did not monetize the video, but Youtube still placed ads on it. I tried explaining that Amazing Grace has been around since the 1700s, and that fire departments and churches play and sing the song thousands of times a year without paying royalties. Still, it seems that someone claims to own the rights to the music.