With over 20 million subscribers of its main channel and over 30 million over its entire network, WatchMojo is one of the largest players on YouTube.
The Montreal-based video production company has been around for well over a decade and continues to expand its viewership, despite fierce competition.
While WatchMojo owes a lot of its success to YouTube, the company is also growing increasingly frustrated with rampant copyright abuse on the platform. We’re not talking about people who steal their content, but about companies that unlawfully claim their videos.
These complaints are far from new and we have highlighted these issues repeatedly over the years. However, when a channel the size of WatchMojo sounds the alarm bell, people should pay attention. This includes abusive rightsholders, which could be liable for millions of dollars in damages.
But let’s start with the basis for the recent uproar. Last weekend WatchMojo’s CEO Ashkan Karbasfrooshan published a video in which he exposed some of the worst Content-ID abusers. The video provides several examples of companies that claimed WatchMojo content which, according to the channel, is protected under fair use.
For example, when WatchMojo published a video commenting on an Avengers movie trailer, an outfit called Hexacorp (which does business as Orfium) claimed it, arguing that the trailer’s music was used without permission. Hexacorp represented Ramen Music, which licensed the track to Marvel, but apparently, WatchMojo wasn’t allowed to show it.
WatchMojo disagreed and protested the claim citing fair use. After all, the trailer and music were clearly used for commentary purposes. This worked and Hexacorp eventually let the claim go, but many other channels with less legal knowledge simply accepted the claim, allowing Hexacorp to monetize their videos.
What plays a major role here is that protesting Content-ID claims may eventually lead to copyright notices. These notices can result in “strikes” which can then cause people to lose all content in their YouTube channels. That’s not a risk many channels want to take.
TorrentFreak spoke to WatchMojo’s CEO who informed us that this is just one of the many examples. Every month they receive hundreds of Content-ID claims across their channels. However, WatchMojo vigorously fights back and prevails on nearly every occasion.
Karbasfrooshan notes that Content-ID abusers come in all shapes and sizes. Some stand out in terms of volume but are quick to let go of claims once a channel protests. Others send only a few complaints but protest when channels push back.
While there’s no doubt that rightsholders should be able to pursue legitimate claims, WatchMojo believes that many see the system as a revenue-generating opportunity. They simply issue thousands of frivolous claims, knowing that many won’t be protested, even though there are clear arguments for fair use.
This means that the rightsholders will scoop up extra revenue with very little expense. After all, most Content-ID claims are automated.
In addition, WatchMojo also signals a possible anti-competitive angle. The channel receives a lot of strikes for content from the music company BMG. These, again, often target fair use videos and are sometimes issued globally, even though the rights can only be enforced in certain countries.
The full expose is explained in detail in WatchMojo’s video, where Karbasfrooshan highlights that BMG’s parent company, Bertelsmann, also has a stake in ZergNet, which happens to be a direct competitor of WatchMojo on YouTube.
“Bertelsmann, through their investment arm BMDI, has invested in our direct competitor ZergNet, whose assets Looper, Nicky Swift and a bunch of others compete with us for the same audience, fighting for the same ad dollars, competing for the same eyeballs,” WatchMojo’s CEO notes.
Whether the behavior is anti-competitive or not, the overarching problem is that many rightsholders ‘abuse’ the Content-ID system, willingly or not. According to US case law, they are required to consider fair use when issuing takedown requests, something that doesn’t happen very often it seems.
Content-ID is a voluntary system that’s not rooted in law. However, WatchMojo believes that abusive rightsholders are opening themselves up to millions of dollars in potential damages from YouTube channels. One way this could happen is through a class action lawsuit.
Karbasfrooshan floated this idea in his initial video which triggered a lot of response from fellow channel operators. The basic idea is that a group of affected channels files a class action suit against an abusive rightsholder, with the goal of obtaining a settlement for unlawfully claimed and monetized videos.
In a follow-up video, WatchMojo explains in detail how this would work. What is clear, is that the potential damages are massive. According to a calculation made by the channel, rightsholders earned over $2 billion through unlawfully claimed videos over the past several years.
Whether the calculations hold up or not, it is clear that companies that send out a lot of claims against fair use content could theoretically face substantial damages. This, of course, has to be backed up in court, but according to WatchMojo’s CEO, who has plenty of legal experience, it’s a viable option.
“We are now actively exploring taking legal action against a couple of targets where we have built up a lot of evidence of wrongdoing, abuse, and received additional evidence from other channels too,” Karbasfrooshan tells TorrentFreak.
For now, WatchMojo is not ready to serve as a representative plaintiff in a class action suit. It hopes that by highlighting the potential risks for copyright holders, the associated companies will do the right thing and properly consider fair use.
WatchMojo has complained about Content-ID abuse for quite a while and it believes that some type of legal action against an abuser is inevitable. Whether that’s through a class action suit or not.
“It’s a matter of time, if not us, someone will come along and sue and win big,” Karbasfrooshan tells us.
WatchMojo’s CEO has spoken to lawyers who, once they were informed about what was going on, were also convinced that some type of legal action is inevitable.
“I assure you that once I explained how Content-ID worked vs. copyright law, and then how rightsholders abused it, the general consensus was: ok, these rightsholders are going to get sued,” Karbasfrooshan says.
“Now, whether that’s done via a class action suit or a direct lawsuit is a different matter. I think the former is interesting but the latter is practically more likely,” he adds.
Still, Karbasfrooshan hopes that lawsuits are not needed to address this. Ideally, copyright holders should change the way they operate and respect fair use, he says.
And there’s also a major role for YouTube here. They can make a simple change and whitelist channels that have good standing, so these are not harmed by frivolous claims.
“The answer is simple: it’s time for a separate class of channels for those who use the platform in a professional manner,” Karbasfrooshan notes.
The latter angle will be discussed in the third episode of WatchMojo’s four-part series on Content-ID abuse. In addition, the channel will also launch “The FU Show”, where it will break down and discuss fair use (FU) issues in regards to content claims.
Needless to say, these videos are very informative, and there’s something in there for channel operators as well as copyright holders.
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.