update: YouTube tells me that the Fair Use tool mentioned below is not new, as was suggested in an earlier version of this post. There was some confusion over this because of the language used in its blog post, implying that it had done something new to address this matter. Apparently, that is not the case. The company simply was reminding all parties that it has these sorts of tools available. Because of that, I have edited the original post that appears below. Google is also editing its blog posts to address the confusion.
The line between copyrighted material and fair use of that material has been blurred by user-created content, such as the homemade video clips found on YouTube. Google wants to make sure that users - and content owners - knows that it has tools in place to address these disputes and there are processes to manage them.
Among them is a dispute mechanism that allows users to claim "Fair Use" and have removed video clips put back on the site, pushing the burden of proof of a violation back on the content owners.
When you receive a notice in your account via Content ID, we tell you who claimed the content, and direct you to a form that lets you dispute the claim if you so choose.
If you believe your video is fair use, check the box that reads "This video uses copyrighted material in a manner that does not require approval of the copyright holder." If you're not sure if your video qualifies, you can learn more about fair use here
Once you've filed your dispute, your video immediately goes back up on YouTube.
From this point, the claimant then makes a decision about whether to file a formal DMCA notification, and remove the content from the site according to the process set forth in the DMCA
Not only does it shift the burden of proof back to the content owner but also it takes Google out of the equation when it comes to being police, judge and jury over copyright fair use. That's a good thing.
Don't get me wrong. Google, as YouTube's parent company, does have a certain amount of responsibility here and, as such, has a system - albeit, a far-from-perfect system - in place to help content owners create policies around the usage of their work. It's called Content ID.
The technology can recognize a clip - whether video or audio - and impose rules around them. For example, if someone uses a 30-second clip of a song as background for a cute clip of the kiddies playing in the snow, that might be OK. But if someone posts the whole song as part of a marketing clip, that might not be cool. So the content owner would give the OK to 30 seconds or less usage of the song but block those who use the whole song.
However, the technology definitely has its limitations. From Google's post:
Since Content ID can't identify context (like "educational use" or "parody"), we give partners the tools to use length and match proportion as a proxy. Of course, it's not a perfect system. That's why two videos -- one of a baby dancing to one minute of a pop song, and another using the exact same audio clip in a videotaped University lecture about copyright law -- might be treated identically by Content ID and taken down by the rights holder, even though one may be fair use and the other may not.
If you see material on YouTube that you think could be a copyright violation or otherwise shouldn't be there, this may explain why. It could be that fair use is being argued by lawyers somewhere and, until there's a definitive answer to the dispute, the clip stays up.