Scammers who made $23.4 million from Content ID must pay back only $3.4 million to cheated artists

In Walled Culture the book (free digital versions available), I linked to a fascinating Content ID scam that TorrentFreak has been reporting on for some years. It revolved around an extremely simple abuse of YouTube’s Content ID system. Built by Google for a cost of around $100 million, Content ID is a fingerprinting system that is designed to identify and manage copyright material posted on YouTube. When material is identified, the copyright owners have the choice to block it or to earn money from it. It’s a deeply flawed system, which frequently makes mistakes, as a great 2017 post by Felix Reda made abundantly clear.

It can also be used for scams. The one that TorrentFreak has been tracking was anything but subtle, and took advantage of the general assumption that copyright owners are fine, upstanding people who can always be trusted. It involved two men falsely claiming they owned the copyrights of some 50,000 songs that weren’t yet monetised on YouTube. They then pocketed the revenue that was generated when any of those songs were subsequently posted to the service. This required nothing clever, just bare-faced lying, as TorrentFreak explained last year:

Using forged documents and other means, the men (via their companies) represented to YouTube and an intermediary company that they were the owners of the music and therefore entitled to collect “royalty payments” from the platform. Over the course of almost four years via fraudulent transactions, the defendants generated millions of dollars, with some of the proceeds spent on property, sports cars, and jewelry. The artists who created the tracks got absolutely nothing.

According to another TorrentFreak post, the fraudulent scheme netted more than $23.4 million. Aside from the astonishing success of such a simple scam, what is also noteworthy is that people were complaining to YouTube about it as far back in 2017, but nothing seems to have been done then.

It is only now that a court has finally ordered the scammers to pay back the money they received to the artists who have been losing out for years. Some 800 people came forward to claim restitution, and they will now be paid the princely sum of $3,365,352.85. As you may have noticed, this seems to leave the odd $20 million in the hands of the scammers. Maybe crime does pay when it’s carried out using today’s dysfunctional copyright system.

Featured image by YouTube.

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