Cat videos are all the rage on YouTube, so much so that a Russian company hijacked a recent cute clip of a feline named “Pepper” in order to steal the ad revenue.
Kidnapping YouTube videos, which anecdotal evidence suggests has happened thousands of times, is as easy as it gets.
A Russian company called Netcom Partners and others are taking advantage of YouTube’s copyright-control filters, known as Content ID. It’s not clear how much money the scammers are stealing from YouTube videomakers. But if you judge by the volume of complaints about the hijacking on Google’s forums, it’s likely Netcom and others are doing pretty well making money for nothing.
“YouTube has developed some system that allows these companies to hijack videos for revenue for content that is not their own without any legal oversight,” Justin Pye, an Emory University physics doctoral student who produced the Pepper video, said in a telephone interview. The 83-second homemade spot has attracted more than 149,000 hits.
Matt Metford, a 27-year-old Vancouver, B.C. high school teacher, said he has been victimized about 20 times since March. His uploaded videos show snippets of video gameplay overlaid with Metford dictating a fake story about the game’s action in a monotone voice.
“This is a form of cyberbullying,” he said in a telephone interview.
Here’s how it happens.
To assuage copyright concerns, Google-owned YouTube has engineered a filtering system enabling rights holders to upload music and videos they own to a “fingerprinting” database. When YouTube account holders upload their videos, Content ID scans new uploads against the copyright database for matches.
If a full or partial match is found, the alleged rights holder can have the video automatically removed, or it can place advertising on the video and make money every time somebody clicks on the video.