Saturday, November 15, 2014

What are "auto-generated by YouTube" music videos?




Update (March 22, 2016):

When I wrote this blog post a year and a half ago, no information about YouTube's auto-generated videos existed online. As a result, this post was part research and part speculation. Over time, some new information has come to light, but I never revisited the topic. In brief, YouTube obtains these audio tracks from digital music distribution services like CD Baby. When you sign up for CD Baby and similar sites, you're given the opportunity to choose which streaming sites (or which kinds of streaming sites) your music will be sent to. YouTube is now one of the sites where your music might end up.

When I—any many other people, apparently—signed up for these services years ago, YouTube wasn't considered a "streaming music site" like Spotify, and YouTube also wasn't creating its own videos that incorporated other people's music. So when these videos first appeared, a lot of people were surprised and even upset. To me, a site like Spotify that streams audio tracks seems different from a site that streams videos and might elect to embed your audio within a video. But regardless, YouTube has become one of the most popular sites for music listeners. If you check your CD Baby (or whatever) account, you'll see the revenue from the auto-generated YouTube videos alongside the revenue from Spotify, iTunes, etc.


I was surprised recently when I saw that several of my recordings had appeared as music videos on YouTube. All of the videos look the same: Each one, in addition to the audio of a song, includes an image of the album art and some text that provides the artist name and album title. The bare-bones descriptions that accompany the videos provide composer and copyright information and the statement "auto-generated by YouTube." What are these auto-generated music videos on YouTube, I wondered, and how are they created? 

A few years ago, YouTube introduced auto-generated channels, which are automatically created collections of videos related to specific topics. Google's support pages say that the auto-generated YouTube channels are created by algorithms that "collect trending and popular videos by topic." As with any other user channels, you can subscribe to the auto-generated channels "and stay updated on new videos" within a topic category.

YouTube has had these auto-generating channels since at least 2011, because WebProNews reported in 2012 that the channels had been around for over a year.




Auto-generated videos take the auto-generated channel concept a step further: Instead of simply compiling existing user-uploaded content by topic, YouTube is now creating the videos themselves—automatically. So far, YouTube has auto-generated videos for four of my recordings, all of which are taken from the 2014 February Records EP Way Last June.

How does YouTube select the content for these auto-generated videos?

 

The Google support pages say that that the auto-generated channels are "created when YouTube algorithmically identifies a topic to have a significant presence on the site." Presumably, the algorithm for creating the auto-generated videos also might be based on search terms and web traffic patterns, but not necessarily. It appears that all of the music for the auto-generated videos has been taken from Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon. 

The channel in which these music videos appear is blandly named "Various Artists – Topic," which doesn't seem like a topic that many viewers would subscribe to, but almost 500 people have subscribed to one of the two auto-generated YouTube channels that has this name. The second, identically named channel has about 50 subscribers as of this writing. The "about" section of the second channel even provides a helpful definition of the term "various artists," in case someone doesn't know what that means. 

Although a "subscribe" button appears below the name of the channel (which appears below the video), it didn't work for me. When I clicked on it, I got a message that said, "This channel is not available." I had to perform a Google search to find the landing page for the channel. It's pretty boring. It looks like something that was automatically generated.


There are now approximately a gazillion of these auto-generated videos on YouTube, many of which have received no views. The prospect of an endless proliferation of automically generated videos reminds me of the Jeff Carlson novel Plague Year, in which self-replicating, flesh-eating nanobots spread inexorably and nearly wipe out humankind. Just like these videos might do! If content is king, as Bill Gates said, then the king has become a mindless automaton.

Is it okay for YouTube to do this? 

 

I don't really mind that these videos of my recordings exist, but not everyone will feel the way I do. Artists could have a number of legitimate objections to the videos. For example, if artists had created or intended to create videos of their own, these auto-generated videos would compete with the official videos. Artists might also object to the design aesthetic of the videos or the song selection.

But the biggest potential issues are copyright and compensation. Artists receive no royalties from these videos, and YouTube posts the videos without permission from the copyright owners. It's strange that YouTube—which suspends users' accounts and deletes videos if it detects copyright infringement or receives complaints from copyright holders—now trawls the internet for music and posts it without permission on an increasingly massive scale. Class-action suit, anyone?

To its credit, YouTube has a program called Content ID that reportedly has paid out $1 billion to copyright holders. The Content ID program requires copyright holders to locate infringing content and then file claims in order to delete it or monetize it. It's hard to imagine that people would accept a rights-management model like this one in other areas, such as the publishing industry. What if you could reprint authors' books with impunity until they noticed it and said something?




61 comments:

  1. Who's receiving the royalties from the advertisement banner attached to the video ?

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  2. YouTube is, presumably. I'm certainly not getting anything for these videos of my recordings!

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    1. Your digital distributor is probably collecting the ad revenue.

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    2. I've talked to several people now whose recordings have been turned into auto-generated videos, and none of them (or their labels/distributors) are receiving any ad revenue. If anyone is getting the ad revenue, it's Google.

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  3. In my case all these videos are not available, so it is very annoying.

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  4. anyone have luck taking the videos down? I don't want these up, and completed copyright infringement reports for them, and no response so far.

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    1. I agree. In an effort to sell a 20 song album on iTunes, I created 20 distinct song-sample videos to demonstrate 30 second portions for each of these songs, and uploaded them onto YouTube, each included the links where folks could buy the songs on iTunes. However, we then discovered the Auto-generated YouTube videos which include the ENTIRE songs ... all 20 of them ... effectively eliminating the entire purpose of the iTunes album. This is counterproductive, and effectively gives away my music.

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    2. If People Actually Like Your Music, They Will Buy It, But My Distribution Company Collects My Doe, Although I Instructed Them To Upload The Videos In The First Place.

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    3. GretaBuddy1,

      Did you ever get your stuff directly onto iTunes? I was going to attempt but from what I read, unless you have upwards of 20 albums to submit (either of your own or as a label), you have to go through an aggregator like CDBaby.

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  5. Great comments above and I basically am in the same boat as GretaBuddy1 - why would I want every single track from an album or my publishing catalog available on YouTube for free when I'm trying to sell them on iTunes? At the very least, a copyright holder should be able to opt out!

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    1. These videos are submitted by your distributor. Contact them to get them taken down.

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    1. Hi Gina & all, I'm having the same problem. Its because that music is on their platform called YouTube Music. Not exactly regular YouTube. I found out from CD Baby as i suspected . YouTube Music is currently only in US, Mexico and 1 more (i forget). So me being in Canada. they dont work! but they show up in the search! I just found them didnt even know CD Baby and YouTube did this. So it makes me as artist look terrible! all these songs in search but when you click them. it says not available! So i just after a big chat with CD baby said request YouTube music just take them down. hope that helps.

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  7. As a music consumer I find this technology and these auto-generated channels to be extremely convenient. It's actually much more effective than torrenting. You have access to virtually any artist's entire discography most of the time (so long as they are popular enough for the algorithm to care to make a # page). Now as an artist, I feel this is the final slap in the face.. It seems like youtube has finally said "fuck it, we're going to blatantly infringe on artists, record companies, the whole fucking music industry and we don't care. What are you going to do music industry? we're fucking youtube MUAHAHAHAH!!!!" BUT, I really kinda want an auto-generated page of my own since they're so damn organized and well designed lol.

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    1. I have similarly mixed feelings about the videos. I just don't understand how YouTube justifies taking down videos that are posted by someone other than the copyright owner and then turning around and posting the same kind of videos themselves. What kind of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do policy do they have now?

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    3. extremely convenient? torrent?? You can't spend $0.99? Idiot!

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    4. Dan March you are saying that music is any different than buying a pizza or getting a new car.... Your the problem.

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    6. How are they getting entire tracks when there has not been any sales on my music yet? cd baby has a 30 second preview only.

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  8. Thanks for posting this. I have seen these auto-generated Art Tracks appearing in auto-generated Topic channels as well. I believe the new YouTube Music Key service is the source for this content. In my case, TuneCore delivered the audio to YouTube during the Music Key Beta. I suspect it is a "bug" that this content is freely available to everyone. Music Key is a subscription service, right?

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    1. Update: These videos are available not only to Music Key subscribers, but also as ad-supported content accessible for free on YouTube.com.

      However, I have seen instances where the content is freely available and ad-free. These instances may be glitches?

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    2. Interesting. I'll have to look into Music Key—I don't know anything about it. I hadn't even heard of it before you mentioned it.

      With my recordings that YouTube auto-generated, sometimes the videos play with ads beforehand and sometimes they don't. It seems random.

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  9. We noticed this and raised the necessary Copyright Infringement notices. Everyone needs to contact their PRO (BMI, PRS, etc.) and ask them to take action against this practice. YouTube, as the major 'ripping' site, are further damaging any potential income. This kind of action needs a licence from the Copyright holders. Be aware that this site (http://playlists.net/) does the same with a Spotify feed and YouTube pick up on it and auto-generate from it also. We have been covering this whole subject on a fortnightly radio show. Time for the Berne Convention to be updated into the digital age and bring all these 'streaming' sites under the banner of broadcasters with appropriate royalty payments. Chris Hills

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  10. THanks Chris. I agree and will contact BMI about this immediately. I encourage anyone else to do the same. This is theft. Maybe a class action suit is in order.

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  11. Here's what CD Baby has said about the issue:

    "As a CD Baby artist, if you’ve enrolled in our Sync Licensing program, your albums and singles will be delivered to YouTube Music Key. We will also deliver to YouTube high quality album art videos, or what YouTube is calling “Art Tracks,” which play audio while displaying an image of your album cover. These videos are available not only to Music Key subscribers, but also as ad-supported content accessible for free on YouTube.com. Ad revenue from these videos will work the same as any other video on YouTube. Revenue for streaming activity through YouTube Music Key will be paid to you by CD Baby, and you’ll be able to view details in the accounting section of your member account."

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Zach. In my case, I've received revenue through CD Baby from Spotify, iTunes, and several other streaming sites, but nothing from YouTube.

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    2. Also, my release that showed up on YouTube in these auto-generated videos didn't go through CD Baby, so I'm still not sure where YouTube got the tracks. Some of my earlier recordings are on CD Baby, but none of those has been turned into auto-generated videos.

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  12. I see my music has been autogenerated also o wow what should I do now??

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  13. The only use I've found these videos for is that every now and then, they have some rare songs that I can't find anywhere on the internet in high quality!

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  15. I, too, am a victim as of 9/Aug./2015 when someone, presumedly CD Baby (at least that what it says) published copies of my tracks on You Tube. I entered into a contract in good faith with CD Baby to publish the tracks on I Tunes (which they own). Has anybody looked into the issue of class action lawsuits?

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    1. I don't know of any pending lawsuits. YouTube has started adding more information to their auto-generated videos, possibly in reaction to the outcry. The auto-generated videos of my songs now say that the content was provided by Routenote or CD Baby. When the videos were first posted, those messages weren't there.

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  16. have you had any success reporting the channel? same has happened to me through CD Baby (or that's what it says)

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    1. I never reported it. I haven't heard back from anyone who has, so I don't know what happens if you do.

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  17. been reading all the comments here and I too have just found out an automated channel was generated using songs from one of my CDs and other videos of mine.. I did not give permisssion.. how do I get this channel removed as I only want ONE youtube channel,, the one I created myself.. its frustrating to see that youtube just takes what it wants and puts it somewhere.. I want the channel taken down.. how to do this

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  18. I found my band's entire discography on youtube tonight...with ads playing. So, they've monetized my music without consent and most likely without compensation...and now I get to do a bunch of leg work to verify I'm being properly compensated.

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  19. This is a bad thing. They have posted all our material on Youtube without permission, pulling some from CDBaby etc. It is easy enough to pull music off YouTube, so it is basically giving all the music away for free.

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    2. is trully an issue? any user can do the same...
      at least some people will know u, u want your music to be heard o to be selled? ...

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    3. CDBaby certainly, are u sure they not getting money? that is weird...

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  20. My full album was posted this way for a few months ,..all the videos are still there ..but now say ( this video is not playable ) ,even more annoying as no point or chance or choice in sharing to network the tracks ...but their still up as unplayable what's the point ? Bloody annoying apart from all the issues mentioned above , something needs to be done they need to say publicly what is going on ...how do we move this forward as artistes I'm at a loss moment , mine are released on iTunes through cdbaby .

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    1. Opt out of youtube with cdbaby. It is them that are making the videos and sending tonyoutube

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    2. they only play in 3 countries US, Mexico and 1 more. just found out. but they show in search and then dont work if you'r not in those 3. so annoying I've asked CD baby to ask Youtube to remove them. i just want mine own channel there. plus they put up a terrible screen grab picture of me on the channel!

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  21. as u can read in the description usually they show the company behind the music, are u sure your discograph is not getting a dime?

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  22. since 12/12/2015 youtube blocked ALL countries but USA to acces this kind of videos... they are good for php scripts that use youtube api to get playlists....

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  23. It appears that YouTube are now blocking or making a lot of these unavailable now, at least in the UK. Do you have any insight regarding this?

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    1. It has to do with licensing rights and local copyright laws. The CD Baby/Orchard Enterprises/etc. agreements that allow YouTube to auto-generate videos often don't extend to countries outside the US.

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  24. just saw that my music is there to , and videos from my channel , with my name as user , how can you complain to youtube ? how do we get in contact , how the fuck do we get them to close that channel ???

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  25. just saw that my music is there to , and videos from my channel , with my name as user , how can you complain to youtube ? how do we get in contact , how the fuck do we get them to close that channel ???

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  26. I'm wondering exactly what kind of videos on Youtube do artists get compensated from? ONLY videos on their official channels/record label official channels, or also ad-supported videos that random Youtube strangers have uploaded (like a 16 year old girl uploading one of your songs with lyrics in the video), or also these "auto-generated" videos?

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  27. Has anyone managed to get ownership of the YouTube-generate channel? I personally don't mind YT posting full tracks since my album is on Spotify, SoundCloud, etc... BUT I need login access to get control of it (add content, edit titles & descriptions, etc...). Also, my Google Knowledge Graph points to that YT channel and since I don't have access to it, I can make suggestions to Google about my Knowledge Graph... I e-mailed CDbaby to check if they can either transfer ownership or send me credentials for the channel... We'll see!

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    1. Yeah, I don't like it that YouTube controls these channels that are named after the bands and artists. If bands/artists later want to create their own channels, they can't use their own name because YouTube has already taken it. I doubt that CD Baby can do anything about it—you'll probably have to work with YouTube.

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  28. Thanks. I wasn't aware these existed until recently. I'll be sure to avoid them.

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  29. Are these videos actually available somewhere?

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  30. There are very few articles or reviews about 'Topics' which surprises me given the impact of these channels on revenue. I have raised a question on Twitter to @teamyoutube

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