vimeo[Update: Private videos for Plus/PRO users will not be scanned. Read about the policy update here.] You may already be familiar with YouTube's copyright protection software, which scans all uploads to make sure that no copyrighted video or audio is being used without permission. While Vimeo had similar restrictions against copyrighted material in place, the process had to be done by hand, and thus most people didn't have a problem using popular music on their videos without permission. That's all about to change very soon as Vimeo has announced Copyright Match, which will flag any and all videos found to be using copyrighted material -- unlicensed or not.

Firstly, if you're wondering why now, they've always discouraged using unlicensed material of any kind:

The first rule of Vimeo has always been: upload only your own videos. Vimeo is a home for original work — not for rips of movies, TV shows, music videos, and sports broadcasts. We encourage creativity and innovation, and we always want to respect everyone who expresses themselves artistically.

Over the last nine years, Vimeo has grown into one of the most visited video destinations in the world. We now have more than 26 million registered members, with over 170 million people swinging by monthly to watch awesome videos. At our size, we need a semi-automated system to help us enforce those beloved guidelines.

How Copyright Match Will Work for Vimeo Uploads

[Update] Here is more information about the appeals process:

If the Copyright Match system detects third-party copyrighted material it will halt the upload and present you with a few options: appeal, swap out the music, or replace/delete the video file. If you choose to appeal, the video will be available for most users while the appeal is pending. If the appeal is denied, the video is deleted. We've worked hard to make the entire process as easy to use and efficient as possible, but we will definitely be happy for feedback once you've experienced it.

Vimeo will email you if they find a match, and then you will have some options (from their blog post):

When you upload a video to Vimeo, Copyright Match “fingerprints” a sample of its audio to see if it matches that of certain third-party copyrighted material, such as songs, movies, and TV shows.

If we find a match, we’ll present you with a few simple options. If you believe your video follows our guidelines, you can quickly and easily appeal the match by providing Vimeo’s moderators with more information. You can tell us that you’re using the material with permission, that your use of the material is protected by “fair use” (more on that below), or that our Copyright Match system made a mistake.

You also have the option to replace the video file, delete the video, or, in the case where a music match is detected, swap the audio with a track from the Vimeo Music Store. (By the way, we’re working to expand our library of licensable music, so stay tuned. Pun completely intended.)

Here are some keep facts to keep in mind based on reading some questions/answers in the comments section:

  • It doesn't matter if the video is private or not, it will still go through the Copyright Match software.
  • Demo reels that have copyrighted music will get flagged just like everything else, and this probably wouldn't qualify as fair use.
  • At the moment they are not scanning videos that have already been uploaded, just new videos, so your current work is safe for now.
  • They don't have anything in place yet to cut down on flags if you happen to license music through companies like The Music Bed, Song Freedom, Marmoset Music, and Premium Beat, but they plan on it in the future. This means if those companies ever register works through Audible Match, the Copyright Match software maker, you'll have to go through the process of proving that you licensed the tracks. It doesn't seem like this is a problem yet, so hopefully it stays that way. (Premium Beat confirmed that they do not.)

We'll come back to fair use in a minute, but the key difference between YouTube and Vimeo is that YouTube gives copyright holders the option to monetize videos that are using video or audio without permission. This is not an option with Vimeo, so these videos will simply be blocked, or if only copyright music is detected, you can replace the audio track with one from the Vimeo Music Store. The cynical person might see this as a way to steer more people into the Vimeo Music Store, but copyright holders have been putting serious pressure on the company to develop a better way of detecting non-licensed material, so this was bound to happen sooner or later.

The Issue of Fair Use

While it seems like their appeals process (which is handled only by humans) might not be that bad for material you have licensed properly, how long that process will take is a whole other matter, especially if you're trying to argue for something under fair use. What qualifies as fair use? Vimeo has updated their Q&A section with some clarifications on the murky waters of fair use, which is usually defined by these four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

I don't claim to be an expert on this, but where Vimeo has been a great alternative to YouTube is in cases where extensive copyrighted video has been used for educational purposes. For example, this 30 minute analysis of the film Prisoners was blocked by YouTube in most territories, but is viewable by pretty much everyone since it has been uploaded to Vimeo (unless Vimeo itself happens to be blocked where you live). Warning, there are spoilers ahead:

Coming from an educational and non-profit-seeking standpoint, it should absolutely fall under fair use, but we'll see if Vimeo staff feels the same way when the Copyright Match service starts flagging these videos for containing copyrighted material.

Using Unlicensed Copyrighted Material Temporarily

There are definitely going to be snags in the appeals process as it gets started, but one of the biggest potential issues I see is for client work. If you upload a private video with some temp music or clips that you intend on taking out or licensing in the final product (but have not done so yet), it will still go through the Copyright Match system. Videos like this would very rarely qualify as fair use, so you're not going to be able to use that material, even if the video is never made public. This will be especially difficult if you enjoyed using Vimeo to test out lots of rough cuts with tracks you don't have permission to use.

What's ironic is that plenty of this sort of thing goes on in Hollywood, where unlicensed material is used in pitches or in rough cuts (I've seen lots of this first-hand). Some of it might qualify as fair use, but the majority of it likely does not. Either way, unless you want some added headaches, it's probably best to just avoid doing this altogether, especially if you're on a tight deadline and don't want to deal with an appeals process -- though you may have to even with licensed tracks that happen to be in the system.

How Will It All Play Out?

Where Vimeo's solution might hopefully excel above YouTube's implementation is when you have been given permission to use music by an artist. These cases might be flagged repeatedly by YouTube, but the process to appeal them on Vimeo seems simple enough, and a human will actually look at it. If Vimeo accepts your explanation for the permission given, the responsibility would then be with you to know whether this artist actually has permission to let you use their music (this isn't always the case, especially with bands signed to big labels). The success of Copyright Match will depend a lot on how Vimeo staff handles the appeals.

So what if you want to prevent your own content from being used by others on the service? You can register with the same system that Vimeo is using, Audible Magic. I have no experience with that system, so I don't know how easy it will be to register, but at least the option is there if you are greatly concerned about people ripping off your material.

While I think there is plenty of innocent material uploaded for fun that uses unlicensed material, it's no longer going to be allowed on Vimeo, regardless of what it is (as long as it's in the database). Will this be the case in practice? That remains to be seen, especially since there is no way to know how accurate the system will be detecting copyright material, and how big the database actually is. There may very well be lots of material that is not in the Audible Magic system yet, and therefore will not be flagged.

With how much unlicensed copyright material is already in uploaded videos, it will be interesting if they eventually use Copyright Match for everything that's ever been put on the site. I'm sure we'd see a lot of content go offline immediately, even some Staff Picks.

What do you think about these changes? Will they affect the work that you do? If you've dealt with the YouTube process, what has your experience been like? How do you think Vimeo could improve this process for those who license or have permission to use a lot of material that may be flagged? Let us know below.