A movie-like fraud case shows how easy it is to abuse YouTube's copyright system in order to illegally collect royalties for music. Two men from Phoenix, Arizona, are said to have collected a total of 23 million dollars in this way - for Latino music to which others hold the rights.
The case, which is scheduled to go to trial in the fall, is detailed in an article by Billboard. The two defendants founded a company called MediaMuv and in 2017 had the digital rights management agency AdRev register a catalog of up to 50,000 song titles with YouTube Content ID, including songs by Daddy Yankee, Julio Iglesias or Anuel AA. AdRev was sent some fake contracts as proof of rights, and was assured that all rights were available - but this was not the case. As it seems, nothing was checked.
Once music tracks have been entered into YouTube's content management system, they are automatically matched by Content ID. This was also the case here, and every time a piece of music registered on MediaMuv was used in a video on YouTube, the fraudsters received the advertising revenue from the ads placed, and this for several years. AdRev also profited handsomely in the process, and thus had little incentive to investigate the complaints it received.
YouTube videos with content from others are monetized in favor of copyright holders
Many affected musicians didn't even realize they were being robbed, because YouTube's copyright process is complex and accessible only to a few. Others noticed, but didn't know how to fight back - their complaints were never thoroughly investigated, but AdRev kept talking only about minor mistakes that had been made. Such errors are indeed not uncommon in rights exploitation, for example, when metadata is mixed up in the case of song titles with the same name. But even as the "mistakes" became more frequent, AdRev apparently dismissed any suspicions.
YouTube itself was also asked to audit MediaMuv back in 2017, according to Billboard, but nothing happened. So the scammers were able to keep enriching themselves for years until the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) turned an eye to MediaMuv in 2019 and the whole thing gradually unraveled.
The fact that fraud on such a scale is possible does not shed a good light on YouTube's copyright system - the volume of wrongly "claimed" songs is enormous, as is the length of time over which MediaMuv was able to maintain its scam. We are curious to see whether YouTube will improve its automated copyright system as a result of the incident - a stricter proof requirement for registration would be a good starting point - or at least select its partners with more care in the future (AdRev does not cut a good figure here either).
Otherwise, we can only hope that there is still some of the looted money left, so that the actual musicians and songwriters can subsequently get at least part of what they are entitled to. However, as befits such a swindler's story, much of it seems to have gone into fast cars, expensive houses and jewels.
By the way, before they started their big YouTube scam, the two main suspects - one of them has already confessed - also made a low-budget horror movie, "Anomaly". Of this one, someone on IMDb writes that it's the worst movie he's ever seen. But who knows, maybe the film will get more attention now anyway - it can even be seen for free on the American portal Tubi (but not from Europe).