During the past few months a lot of YouTube channels are have been demonetized recently do to something YouTube calls ‘duplication’ or (more recently) reused content. The main message to be taken from YouTube’s monetization review process is that in order for your channel to enjoy the benefits of monetization (which is a privilege not a right), you need to:
- Respect the intellectual property of others.
- Follow YouTube’s Terms of Service (www.youtube.com/static?template=terms) and Community Guidelines (www.youtube.com/yt/about/policies/).
- Produce content that advertisers would like to be associated with.
- Upload videos in which you used enough of your own content that you deserve to earn money from it.
The issue of reused content (and duplication) is mainly related to this last point—whether you are creating enough content of your own.
1. Types of Reused Content
There are several kinds of reused content:
1.1 Duplication or reused content not involving copyright issues, but involving third-party content
The important thing to note is all of these cases, you would have the right to use content commercially. However, that right does not mean that YouTube has the the obligation to assist you in making money from those videos by allowing them to be monetized. YouTube states:
In most cases, even if you have licenses to use the content or your videos are protected by copyright laws, such as fair use, if the main purpose of your channel is to monetize other channels’ or sources’ content, then you won’t be eligible for YPP. You still need to be contributing to the value of that content in some way. Note: some of these videos may still be fine to remain up on YouTube! (Partner Program Reviews and Removals (including Duplication)
YouTube has stated that using third party content can be OK, but the key thing is what you do with it—specifically, what value you are adding to it. For example, there is some value in searching for the funniest videos involving falls. However merely finding them and stitching them together into one video would not be ENOUGH added value. You would simply not be bringing enough of your own content to the table.
Channels with the following characteristics may find it very difficult to have their channels approved for monetization:
1.1.1 Videos consisting solely or mainly of public domain work created by other people (e.g., public domain movie channels)
1.1.2 Uploads of copies (or minimally edited versions) of material previously published by other people under a Creative Commons license (this would apply to even the standard CC BY licence). For example, if you use a Creative Commons song from Incompetech (incompetech.com) or a song from YouTube’s music library (www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/music) as a small part of a video about something else, it would be no problem. However, if your videos were merely that same song and a still picture, that would be considered duplication
1.1.3 Videos over-reliant on things like stock photos and stock video (even though the channel owner may have licensed them for commercial use)
1.1.4 Compilations of viewer submissions or compilations of videos used with permission.
1.1.5 Music promotion channels (e.g., channels based on sourcing songs online, getting permission to use them and then using them to create videos, usually with a photo and/or music visualizer for the visuals.). However, there is a recent case of a large music promotion channel—alexrainbirdMusic—getting demonetized for reused content. They mobilized their subscribers to fight for their monetization privileges to be reinstated and were successful. YouTube switched their monetization back on without any explanation. Other channels have not been so fortunate.
1.2 Duplication or reused content involving original content
The following may cause problems with monetization:
1.2.1 Different versions of the same video on the same channel (e.g., a ten-minute version and a twelve-minute version).
1.2.2 Many very similar videos on the same channel (e.g., Twenty slightly different videos of the same Finger Family song, a hundred videos of someone drinking water, etc.).
1.2.3 Videos that have been done to death already. A good example of that would be ‘learn color’ and ‘baby shark song’ animations. There are tens of thousands of these videos on YouTube already. They do get a lot of views, but children really need to learn more than what the videos are offering. Channels specializing in these kinds of videos are not getting monetized. Another problem affecting these kinds of animated kids videos is that they are targeting toddlers while YouTube (and its advertisers) are targeting people 13 and over.
1.2.4 Videos that are simply too basic (e.g., if your videos are basically just text on a still image, the channel is very unlikely to get monetization approved)
1.2.5 Videos generated automatically (e.g., using text-to-speech programmes to convert Wikipedia articles into the audio for a video or using a music visualizer to create the visuals).
1.3 Duplication and reused content involving copyright and trademark issues
These are more straightforward as the copyright issues mean the videos should not have been monetized in the first place as the uploader would not have the necessary commercial rights. In this list.
1.3.1 Channels that have received a lot of copyright claims (the one exemption would be for cover version channels in which the performers supply their own background music)
1.3.2 Uploads of obviously copyright-infringing content that has not been claimed, including videos that attempt to evade YouTube’s Content ID system (e.g., mirroring and videos so that copyright infringement is more difficult to detect)
1.3.3 Mashup videos, DJ mix and music remix videos
1.3.4 Compilations without commentary (or with only minimal commentary) of other people’s videos (even if those videos have not been claimed by the copyright owners)
1.3.5 Gameplay video without commentary. According to YouTube’s policy on Video game and software content, “Videos simply showing a user playing a video game or the use of software for extended periods of time may not be accepted for monetization.”
1.3.6 Reaction videos with minimal commentary
1.3.7 Narration of texts (e.g., stories, articles, news reports) written by other people (this would include an actual person narrating as well as the use of text-to-speech programs)
1.3.8 Live concert footage (and you are not the performer and/or do not own the copyright to the video)
1.3.9 Lyrics videos of other people’s songs (with or without the actual song in the video)
1.3.10 Fan-fiction or children’s videos featuring trademarked and/or copyrighted characters (e.g., Harry Potter, Thomas the Tank Engine).
1.4 Possible other categories
Other channels have also reported having ‘duplication’ issues. These include:
1.4.1 Audio podcasts. The issue is likely that the videos are mainly to be listened to (not watched), so if ads were placed on the video, they would go unnoticed by most viewers. I have heard of many audio podcast channels encountering problems with monetization. I have heard on one such demonetized channel—Southern Cannibal—getting monetization returned.
1.4.2 Channels with a lot of very long ambient content (e.g., a ten-hour fireplace video, an hour-long audio tone). These have the problem mentioned in 4.2 (focusing too much on the audio). In addition, the visuals often have the problem mentioned in 1.3 (an over-reliance on stock assets).
1.4.3 Channels aimed at toddlers. YouTube is intended for people aged 13 and above and the advertisements would reflect this demographic. If you are aiming for a really young audience, your content and YouTube’s advertisers may simply not be compatible. For this one, it seems that if you are aiming to monetize a channel aimed at little kids, you would need highly original, varied, creative and professional-looking content.
1.4.4 Narration of public domain works (e.g., audio books). There are two main issues. One would be that the videos are mainly to be listened to (not watched), so if ads were placed on the video, they would go unnoticed by most viewers. The other issue would be related to point 1.4 (an over-reliance on public domain work).
There may very well be other kinds of channels affected. I will update the list if I notice any more kinds of channels reporting duplication issues. Let me know if you think any other kinds of channels should be added.
1.5 Issues related to Community Guidelines and advertiser-friendly content
YouTube appears to be using ‘reused content’ as a kind of blanket reason for denying monetization, so it is possible the ‘reused content’ notification your receive is entirely unrelated.
1.5.1 Community Guidelines violations. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, one of the purposes of the review is to check to see if the channel is complying with YouTube’s Terms of Service and Community Guidelines. If a channel is breaking any of YouTube’s many rules (there are a LOT of them ranging from putting tags in the description to requiring people to subscribe to your channel in order to enter a giveaway to showing people how to modify ammunition), that channel is unlikely to pass the monetization review process. I have a list of possible violations in my article on YouTube suspensions: Was Your YouTube Channel Suspended for No Reason? (A Guide to Community Guidelines-related Suspensions)
1.5.2 Non-advertiser friendly content. If YouTube decides the content is not advertiser friendly, the channel may be denied monetization for ‘reused content’. Here are YouTube’s advertiser friendly guidelines: support.google.com/youtube/answer/6162278
2. What about other channels that have the same content but are monetized?
There are three main things to consider here:
2.1 When the new monetization system started in late 2017, channels that (1) were already monetized and (2) met the minimum requirements for watch hours and subscribers simply kept their monetization privileges. For several months, YouTube only reviewed new applications. They only started to turn their attention to the already-monetized channels in late 2018. It will take a long time before all channels are reviewed. Therefore, just because you see a successfully monetized channel with the same content as your channel has, this does not mean the channels is OK. It may simply have not been reviewed yet.
2.2 It is unclear if YouTube is going to be consistent. There are some massive channels that would appear to be unmonetizable. These include channels like NoCopyrightSounds (a music promotion channel using music visualizers and third-party songs). Is YouTube going to be consistent and demonetize these channels.
2.3 Quality may be consideration. I have noticed a lot of top-ten style channels having their monetization applications fail. They are quite similar to the channel WatchMojo in that they have commentary going on throughout the video, but the commentary never gets very deep or insightful. The only difference I could see (apart from the channels being relatively new), was that the production quality of the videos on these channels (e.g., narration, selection and editing of source material, etc.) wasn’t that good. YouTube definitely hasn’t mentioned anything about video quality, but it seems that it might be one of the the things considered in a monetization review.
3. The elephant in the room: Gameplay videos
That would be gaming videos with very shallow commentary. In this case, all the visuals and most of the audio would be owned by the game developer (and, if commercially-released music is used, the copyright owners of the music compositions and recording). This is probably one of YouTube’s biggest genre in terms of uploads. It is unclear how such channels will be treated under the new policy. I suspect new gaming channels who don’t do much commentary will find it difficult to get monetization approved.
4. What you can do
According to an official YouTube post (Partner Program Reviews and Removals (including Duplication), you can do the following to improve your chances of getting monetization:
- Add commentary or show your presence in your videos (voice or on screen)
- Link back to your YouTube channel from your website
- Provide more context about your work in your video and channel descriptions
- Make sure the content on your channel aligns with [YouTube’s] policies. You can review: Community Guidelines, AdSense Policies, and YouTube Partner Program policies.
Here are my suggestions:
4.1 Beef up the video descriptions
The problem that is easiest to fix is when the channel is in line with everything that YouTube is looking for but the video descriptions don’t contain information about the actual production. For example, who shot the video? When? What model of camera was used? Where is the music from? What rights do you have for the music? Who are the other people in the video? If there is any third party content, where is that from and what rights do you have to it? If this information is in the description, the YouTube reviewer than can get a much better idea of what you have created, and what you own, what you have exclusive rights to and what you have some rights to.
4.2 Mobilize your supporters
I know of three channels—Southern Cannibal (audio podcasts of user horror story submissions), alexrainbirdMusic (user music submissions) and VJ4rawr2 (movie parodies) that launched viewer campaigns to get their channels reinstated—and were successful, while smaller channels with similar kinds of videos remained demonetized. Importantly, in all three cases, the monetization was switched on without any kind of notice coming from YouTube. In the latter two cases (I don’t know about the first one), the channel owners did not have to wait for the 30-day monetization re-application period. Monetization was simply switched back on. This seems to indicate that some YouTube staff members have the power to help channels out at their own discretion.
4.3 Rethink the content and rebuild the channel
For many channels, the content simply isn’t going to be monetizable because of issues with the content of the video. If you have a channel like that, you need to change the format or accept that the channel is not going to be monetized. For specific kinds of channels, here is some advice:
4.3.1 Fair-use-style channels: You can minimize the use of clips and provide in-depth analysis throughout the videos. Good examples of fair-use-style channels are Vox, Nerdwriter and Wisecrack. it is important to accept that monetizing a video weakens any fair use claim, so there is no guarantee that your fair-use-style videos will be approved.
4. 3.2 Music promotion channels: You can choose to (1) do it for fun and not get monetized, (2) actually become a record label and sign artists, (3) really work on the videos (e.g., invite the artists in for recording sessions like the channel Paste NYC or Wood & Wires or 4. Do music reviews in which only short snippets of songs are used.
4.3.3 Kids channels: It might be better to use adult actors, be sure to include a lot of variety and make the content educational. You can consider shows like Sesame Street, Barney, Blues Clues or the Wiggles as example of children’s programming. To be monetizable, a kids channel would have to be very professional and original.
Obviously, if there are videos that are causing problems, you will need to get rid of them if you want to get the channel monetized. However, you cannot just delete everything, upload a new video and get monetization approved. You will need to establish a strong track record with the new videos (in terms of number of videos uploaded, the watch hours for those videos the and subscribers gained from those videos). Also bear in mind that if you delete videos, the watch hours of those videos will still show up in analytics and you will still be able to apply for a review, but it is the watch hours of the non-deleted videos that will be examined during the monetization review. Similarly if almost all of your subscribers came from your deleted content, you will need to establish that your new content is also attracting subscribers.
4.4 Start another channel
In a lot of a cases I have seen, channels with a lot of views and subscribers would basically have to delete everything and start from scratch. There is no guarantee that if you delete everything and reload new content that your new content will be successful. You may simply end up sacrificing your popular videos for nothing. It might make more sense to leave that successful channel alone and start a new one. Who knows? Perhaps in future, YouTube will relax its monetization rules and the old channel will be monetizable again.
4.5 Simply forget about monetization
That is one option. If my channel gets demonetized I will consider this one.
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