Jul 22, 2014 · 3 minutes

Some people are waiting for flying cars, quantum computing, or virtual reality. Me? I just want somebody to fix copyright on YouTube.

Policing copyright on YouTube can be a nightmare for both users and creators. The platform uses a system called ContentID, which detects videos with "infringing" copyrighted material before either removing them or diverting ad revenue to the "proper" rights holder. The trouble is, this is done automatically and, in many cases, the person or company making the infringement claim is not the really the rights holder at all. Or, the the copyrighted material qualifies as "fair use" depending on a number of factors. For example, a movie critic can generally use clips from films free of charge because it's considered "commentary."

Seattle's Audiosocket is one of many companies looking to provide a better alternative to ContentID. And today it's announcing that its LicenseID software will be implemented on over 600,000 tracks from more than 110 music libraries.

LicenseID differs from ContentID in that, instead of merely identifying the song, it also identifies the license. Here's what that means: When creators and publishers grant others permission to use their work, that license can take many forms: Maybe a company has paid an artist for the rights to use a song, but only in one specific commercial and only for a set period of time. Maybe an artist has published her work under a Creative Commons license, meaning anybody can use it, but she stipulates that the work can only be used for non-commercial purposes.

To get a sense of how big a problem license abuse is, Audiosocket ran an internal audit on its own catalog of licensed work (in addition to creating the LicenseID software, Audiosocket itself is a licensing company).

"There's more than 10% of just one category (web license) that are infringing," says Jenn Miller, COO and cofounder of Audiosocket. Generally, the infringement takes the form of someone purchasing a cheap license designed for "personal use," then using the content in a huge brand video or advertising campaign. "Major Fortune 500 companies were using $1.99 personal licenses," she adds. Over the past six months, Audiosocket found that rights holders in its "web license" vertical had lost more than $200,000 due to the wrong license being issued, and that's even before taking into consideration infringement penalties.

"What's encouraging," Miller adds, "is that over 75 percent of these infringers are arranging payment within one week's time." Hey, if it takes getting caught to keep people honest, so be it.

Taking a step back to look at the broader challenges facing the music industry, what's appealing about Audiosocket is the freedom to customize licenses and take control over how the work is used. There are a couple schools of thought pertaining to the use of copyrighted material -- Some people believe that by using a band's song in a video seen by millions, it's a form of free promotion. Others (including myself) believe that, particularly at a time when artists make very little off Spotify and Pandora, these "synchronization" royalties that are paid when a song is used in an ad or television show are among the few meaningful revenue streams left.

LicenseID allows the rights holder to say, "Alright, you can use my music for free, but you have to give me credit." Or, they can say, "Everyday users can use my music for free, but commercial organizations must pay." Or, payments could kick in after a video surpasses 10,000 or 100,000 views. And all of that licensing information is included right there in the video's audio signal.

Theoretically, LicenseID sounds like a clever solution to YouTube's copyright woes. That said, as long as large companies can continue to manipulate YouTube's "guilty until proven innocent" ContentID system, YouTube's copyright headaches are far from over.

[animated gif by Brad Jonas for Pando]