You know those horrible pop-up ads that seem suddenly to be on every single video you click to watch? These are the result of Youtube video monetization. A Youtube user somewhere has agreed to let Youtube run an ad on his video in return for a little money. These ads are suddenly everywhere because in April of this year, Google dumbed down its partner program to include almost any Youtube user who is willing to monetize his or her video. To become a Youtube partner now, all you have to do is monetize one video and abide by the Youtube Terms of Service and Community Guidelines. The Gold Rush is on.
The Copyright/Youtube/Second Life Hornet’s Nest
Copyright law, Youtube, and Second Life are each a kingdom of their own, and together they are a real hornet’s nest, just waiting for some Second Life machinimist to step in and get stung. Youtube is owned by Google, and Google is … well … Google is king of the world. At least the Youtube world. Google’s policies and Linden Lab’s policies are very different, sometimes conflicting, and it’s important to know the differences. The stakes are high. Your Youtube account is at risk. For many of us, that is our lifeblood.
Copyright and Youtube Monetization
I’m going to talk about (1) why you want to be real careful with copyright in your YouTube videos that you intend to monetize, (2) what happens if you don’t, and (3) what you need to do to correctly monetize your Second Life Youtube videos.
First off, most important: To monetize your Youtube video, you need to be able to assure Google that you own either the copyright or a commercial license to use ALL content. Google doesn’t knock on your door and ask about this. It’s implicit in your monetization. Google Monetization FAQs make it clear that by choosing to monetize a video, you affirm to Google your ownership of either copyright or a commercial license to all content.
Commercial License vs. License to Use
A commercial license is much different from a simple license to use. A “CC-By-NC” Creative Commons license, for example, gives permission for non-commercial use only. “CC” or “CC-By” licenses are ones that allow commercial use. The vast majority of music on free music-sharing sites have non-commercial licenses. It is possible to find free commercial-licensed music, but you have to look carefully for it. For example, ccmixter.org has a Music Free for Commercial Use section.
Since Google doesn’t check your rights upfront, it’s tempting to just go ahead and monetize a video you don’t own all the rights to–or one for which you have a license to use the content, but not a commercial license. Stop. Do not pass Go. Don’t do it. Google may monetize your video instantly, but rest assured that video will undergo a stringent review process very shortly afterwards.
I monetize my first video
I monetized my first test video a couple weeks ago. It took about 3 seconds. But I was very aware that Google was checking that video and all its content very carefully behind the scenes after I monetized it, especially since it was my first one.
If Google detects any content in a video you monetize, for which it suspects you may not have commercial rights, it will contact you and ask you to provide proof. Or, after you post your video, a copyright owner may complain of copyright infringement to Google. At any time during this process, you may receive a copyright strike from Google if you violate someone’s copyright. This is a serious event and can jeopardize your Youtube account.
Three strikes and you’re out
Three copyright strikes from Google, and your account is terminated, forever. The only way to get it back is if you can convince one of the copyright complainants to withdraw the protest, or if you prevail in a counter-notification to Google or in a court of law. Without a lot of luck or clout, you will never get your Youtube account back, or any of your videos, views, or comments. Google warns that the consequences of copyright strikes are severe. David Murphy of PC Magazine warns that a copyright strike may also compromise your video’s position in the Google search results, though Google did not confirm this.
Google is not a court of law
Copyright strikes are based not on copyright infringement, but on claims of copyright infringement. It is important to understand the distinction. Google is not a court of law. If it receives a valid complaint, you receive a strike. There’s no trial or hearing or other safeguards we’re accustomed to in a democratic country. You can file a counter-notification with Google, and if you prevail, the strike may be removed. But often a counter-notification will lead to legal proceedings between you and the complaining party, and your Youtube account will remain terminated while the case drags on, as legal proceedings do. Watch this video about Ozimal’s copyright infringement case, which is just starting to drag through the courts.
It is important to understand how arbitrary Google is in its response to copyright strikes. It can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and you have no recourse other than sending Google a counter-notification for a copyright strike, or an appeal for a Community Guidelines strike. It can seem at the time that you are sending it into a dark hole. It’s not like there’s a phone number to call Google up, or some agency to complain to. Google is police, court, and judge, and they are hard to get hold of. The appeal and counter-notifications are easy to file. But after that, the procedure is up to Google.
Your Youtube videos are in the mouth of a lion
Account termination is usually the result of several offenses, but Google can, and has, terminated accounts on the basis of what it deems to be one severe offense. When you put your videos on Youtube, you are putting them in the mouth of a lion, who will eat them on a whim, and you will never see them again.
I say all this not to criticize Google, but to emphasize how important it is to play by Google’s strict rules if you put your videos on Youtube. Otherwise, you can lose everything in an instant and never get it back. Years of work and emotional investment can be obliterated in the blink of an eye. The Internet is full of people who never intended to do anything wrong and wound up getting their accounts terminated, along with all their videos and views: Get Out of Debt Guy, Darren Rowse, Bosco, Moviemaestroten, Deepak Media, and the list goes on and on.
You can spam and not know it
Many of Google’s rules are obscure, and it is easy to misunderstand them. Google explains some of the more esoteric offenses that can get you a Community Guidelines strike, which is similar to a Copyright strike, only it involves a violation of Youtube’s Terms of Service. These include things you may have never heard of: misleading thumbnails; deceptive descriptions, titles, or tags; or metadata spam – all of which Google considers spam. Google has a zero tolerance for spam, and even an appearance of it can get you a Community Guidelines strike in short order. It is very easy to accomplish one of these violations without intending to. Be sure to read up on Google’s description of spam here and here.
Youtube monetization requirements
To recap: To monetize a video, you must own the copyright or have an airtight license for commercial use of all content in your video. This includes graphics, music, props, words, people’s likenesses, and … well, everything. Google says the best way to do this is to use only original content, that is, content that you created. But in Second Life machinima, this is rarely possible. We’re always using a sim, avatar, animation, clothes, or skin made by another content creator.
Here is where Google and Linden Lab mix it up. Linden Lab has a Snapshot & Machinima Policy, in which it is “thrilled” to give all residents the right to capture and use everything that is displayed on sims, unless the sim owner’s covenant disallows it. Machinimists are allowed to capture footage on sims that expressly allow it in their covenant. For those that do not, machinimists must get permission from the landowner ahead of time.
Linden-granted rights are far from sufficient to monetize a Youtube video
Linden-granted rights are far from sufficient to monetize an SL video. And the Linden Snapshot & Machinima policy can lull you into thinking it’s all very easy. It sounds as if you can check a few land covenants, shoot your video, go post your Youtube video, receive a Youtube invitation to monetize, and you’ll be rolling in the dough. Don’t. Do not pass Go. Stop first. Make sure, for ALL content, you truly either own the copyright or have a license for commercial use.
Think about who made that amazing avatar creation and what they might think, and more importantly what they might do, when they see that you are making money from a video using it. To avoid heartache, bankruptcy, and Youtube strikes, get a signed agreement from them for commercial use first, before you post your video. This may mean paying some money upfront to the creator. Better now than later.
The LL Snapshot & Machinima policy is silent on a couple of extremely important points. Although I have written to a number of Linden Lab people, I have yet to get an answer : (1) Do machinimists have the right to film the items worn by avatars, include the avatar creation itself, skins, clothes, hair, etc. without getting express permission? (2) How do the licenses to capture and use, granted by Linden Lab, relate to commercial use?
I can’t imagine that Linden Lab could grant any license for commercial use. Absent an answer from Linden Lab, I guess we don’t know for sure. But to me it seems pretty clear that to satisfy Google, an SL machinimist would have to get written permission for commercial use of any content other than what you create yourself. That means essentially that you go to the SL creator and make a signed agreement.
So many SL machinima violate music copyrights
And that brings us to music. I can’t tell you how many SL machinima I see that violate music copyrights. If your video uses music that was composed or performed by someone else whose license does not grant you permission to use it, you are violating copyright.
It is easy to misunderstand this in connection with a Youtube video because Google allows matched third party content, which it calls “Content ID”, in your videos as long as the copyright holder does not have a policy with Youtube that specifies blocking or takedown of videos infringing their copyright. And most performers don’t mind matched content in videos these days consider because they consider it good advertising. Also, Google will happily use the opportunity to sell an ad to the copyright holder to run underneath your video advertising the music.
This same laxity does not apply for monetized Youtube videos. Monetization, which used to be the exclusive right of the revered Youtube partners, has now extended to almost the entire Youtube user base. But standard Youtube videos and monetized Youtube videos have very different playing fields. Matched third party content is tolerated in regular Youtube videos, but not at all in monetized videos, for which you must own the copyright or have a license for commercial use. Google is very clear and very strict about this. Google’s enforcement can be harsh, and permanent.
Yes, you can monetize your SL machinima, but not easily
Conclusion: Yes, you can monetize your SL machinima. But you must go to the trouble to get commercial licenses for all content, or be sure you own the copyright to it yourself. Otherwise, you risk copyright strikes, lawsuits, and potential suspension or termination of your Youtube account.
Important disclaimer: This information is educational only, and is not intended as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please find yourself a good lawyer.
That’s a tall order.
Here are a few links to get you started: