Sony Filed a Copyright Claim Against the Stock Video I Licensed to Them


For the past few years, people have been contending with more and more false copyright claims and ID matches on services such as YouTube. While these copyright claims often involve an audio match of copyrighted music, sometimes it is the visual content that is in question.

Whether it’s still photography or motion imagery, your visual content can be flagged, blocked, or removed due to a copyright dispute. If you have original content on YouTube, this could happen to you.

Luckily, for content creators, copyright owners, or people with valid license agreements for visual content, this type of claim is usually resolved with very minimal effort by way of a quick YouTube dispute form – but sometimes it’s not that easy. Last week, I had my first encounter with a visual copyright claim that wasn’t quite so simple to resolve.

Who issued the copyright claim against my original footage? Sony Music Entertainment.

Now, before you tune out and write this off as a music-infringement content dispute, I’ll skip ahead a little bit and assure you that everything about this content copyright claim issue was solely related to visual content and had nothing to do with any audio content for any of the mentioned videos.

Here is my original video that Sony Music filed copyright claim for; note that there is no audio track — it’s only visuals:

So here’s the story:

I run the top free 4K stock footage resource online at my website, A few months back, I issued a stock footage license agreement to Epic Records for one of their artists; in their video, they used my stock footage as the entire background imagery for the full duration of their YouTube video:

Less than two months later, I received a notification from YouTube notifying me that the “copyright owner” has issued a copyright claim for my visual content.


With this said, I’m not a stranger to content ID matches or automated bots thinking that my content belongs to a larger company. It’s happened before – but as noted above, this has always been very quickly resolved with a notification to the person or company I had issued the license agreement. In fact, I’ve also been on the other side of things and have needed to send copyright take down orders to people that have uploaded my visuals and creative content to YouTube under their names and represented it as their own visuals.

Next step: Addressing the issue.

First, it took me a while to figure out who SME was. Initially, I didn’t find any matches in my license agreement database for SME or the name listed in their claim. After variations on searches within my records, I found the license agreement I issued to Epic Records and learned that they were a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment. From there, I at least knew which video on YouTube was claiming copyright to my own footage.

My standard protocol was followed:

1.) File a youtube copyright dispute countering the copyright claim and explain nicely that I had issued a license for the claiming party to use my footage but they have no claim to any copyright for my content. I provide the date on which I issued the license agreement, the name and e-mail address to whom I issued it, and a link to my original footage and website link.

2.) Allow 48 hours for the claiming party to remove any copyright claims.

3.) Explain that if they do not remove their copyright claim within the time allotted that I will revoke their rights to use my footage in their video due to a terms of use violation.

4.) E-mail the person I issued the license agreement with all of the relevant information and reiterate the need to remove the copyright claim expeditiously.

This is the part where the copyright claim is usually promptly dismissed. So what was different this time? A day or so after filing my dispute, I checked the status of the claim on YouTube and found a status update explaining that “The claimaint (Sony Music) has reviewed their claim and confirmed it was valid” — it was essentially saying that someone at Sony or a person that manages their YouTube account reviewed the information I provided and said, “Nope. This is definitely our footage and we own the copyright”.


This was a first for me. I e-mailed the person I issued the license agreement a second time with an update about the denied dispute and emphasized the immediate need for removal of copyright claim to my content. My e-mail provided the specific license agreement that was issued to Epic Records and specifically noted the section of my license agreement that pertained to copyright:

4. Copyright: Mitch Martinez, retains all right, title, and interest in and to the Stock Files not expressly granted by the License Grant above. Such rights are protected by the United States and International Copyright laws and international treaty provisions. You may be held legally responsible for any copyright infringement that is caused or encouraged by your failure to abide by the terms of this Agreement.

Two days came and went with no response to my e-mails. Now there’s a serious problem, so I sent a third e-mail to the person at Epic Records.

Hi [name removed],

The youtube copyright claim from SME has still not be dropped. You have directly violated the terms of use for my stock footage. Please immediately remove or replace all footage you have downloaded from in regards to [band name]’s video at this link:[link]

You do not have the right to make any copyright claims to my footage or infringe on my rights as the copyright owner.

I followed the e-mail with a separate copyright claim against their video. At this point, the information I had was that I issued a license agreement to Epic records allowing them to use my content; Epic Records/Sony Music violated the terms of use by claiming copyright to my footage on YouTube; when disputed, Epic/Sony denied my dispute and maintained that they were the copyright owners of my content; and none of my e-mails got a response. It was an absolutely ridiculous situation and totally counter to the spirit or purpose of my stock footage resource.

Further research was now needed in terms of what I would need to do next. Epic Records didn’t have a directory of contact information on their website and the “send us feedback” link was broken. After a bit of work, I found a feedback form on the Sony Music website and also a page in regards to obtaining licensing. It wasn’t the best fit for the contact I wanted, but it was a starting point. I was gearing up for a full on war with a major company — something I really had no desire for.

A day later, I received contact from a person at Epic Records’ legal department. The voicemail acknowledged that there might be some sort of issue but he had no idea about the details. From there, it got interesting (and a little bit fun). I recorded all of my phone calls with the person from Epic’s legal department. I knew that without his acknowledgment of the recording that the call itself might not necessarily be admissible in court (depending on the state statutes), but knowing how fallible memory is, it would still provide me the ability to revisit exactly what was said on the calls and help me prepare for a legal battle if it came to that.

On the subsequent calls, the person in Epic legal acknowledged that the footage was, in fact, my footage and thanked me for allowing them to use the footage. That’s a win for my side of things. He claimed that the person I issued the license agreement to no longer worked at Epic and this was the first he was hearing of the issue. Large companies, however, usually have a policy of having a forward of e-mails for employees that no longer work there, so that didn’t really add up. But either way, I provided him all of the information again – including the fact that the footage they claimed copyright to was created and uploaded to my YouTube account almost a full two years prior to me issuing a license agreement to Epic/Sony and the upload of their video. The call ended with him saying he was going to review the license agreement I issued and get back to me. That didn’t sound promising. I figured I was about to find out if there were any major loopholes in my license agreements…

The next call from Epic’s legal department confirmed that they had officially dropped the copyright claim to my footage. I acknowledged and asked if they have removed or replaced all of my footage from their video. They had not. Instead, their legal department insisted that the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and asked if there was any way they could continue to use my footage in their video.


I noted that there was no misunderstanding on my end. The terms of use were violated — whether it was done directly by Epic/Sony or by another company doing content IDs on their behalf. The copyright claim was made against my content and when disputed, the claim was maintained on their end. There’s no misunderstanding there.

The purpose of my stock footage resource is to help people, though, so I stated that if I was fully credited and website linked in the video, I would allow them to continue using my content for the specific video. He stated that he did not have the specific authority to make that decision and we would check on it. I explained very clearly that if they did not comply with the conditions I stated that their only other course of action would be to replace or remove my footage from their video – and also noted that YouTube does not allow replacement videos so they would be forced to remove the video and lose their hit count on the video.

Early the following week, I was credited in the video and my website was linked. This case was finally closed.

The Takeaways

If you ever find yourself in a bizarre copyright dispute in which you know you’re right:

1.) Try to be nice – even if just at first. Sometimes these issues are not of malicious intent and a friendly approach can help expedite resolution.

2.) Have your licensing documentation organized and easily searchable.

3.) Have information in regards to the source content available for reference (date of creation/what gear was used/locations/crew/etc).

4.) Document as much correspondence as possible (e-mail chains/phone calls/notes).

5.) Make sure you have provisions in agreements for breach of contract or terms of use violation.

6.) Get as much contact information for people/companies as possible – maybe even get “if unavailable” contact information.

7.) Know that it might take some work to remedy this type situation but these types of disputes almost always work out in favor of the copyright owner.

If you ever find yourself on the defending side of a false copyright claim, whether for video or photography, I hope these tips and my experience can be of help to you.