The People Vs Youtube
Update 2/2/2015: Since the publishing of this article, The Fine Bros have apologized for their trademarking of “React” and their actions surrounding it, having Fullscreen rescind copyright claims on videos they had marked to be blocked worldwide. We can confirm that our own video that was blocked is now able to be viewed. They have also taken back their trademark applications and have decided to discontinue React World. You can read more about the Fine Bros decision here.
Since I had decided to go freelance in late 2015, I’ve watched my new medium of work enter a time where there is a much higher amount of risk in uploading content. For those not in the know, I shifted over from writing over at Techraptor.net over to doing Youtube content exclusively, still focusing on narrative discussion and the Video Game subculture. Thing is, recent events that have transpired over on Youtube have made newer content creators with smaller channels more and more nervous. Beyond that, those affected have also started to voice other issues that they have had with Youtube’s policies, and concern about where it may end up.
To give a rough timeline, sometime last week a few random Youtube channels disappeared. Not closed down, not locked due to copyright strikes. Gone. The one that seemed to cause the biggest ruckus was the disappearance of the channel I Hate Everything, where many Youtubers expressed their concern in the event going on. When I Hate Everything discussed what happened after the fact, the video that had caused this to happen was relatively harmless aside from strong language. The reason that was given to I Hate Everything was that it might be “repetitive” and “offensive.”
Now, I’d prefer for you to have a look at his video on the subject to get all of the details, but what he makes sure to do is to point out the obvious hypocrisy of Youtube. To give a more personal account of these sorts of things, I recently uploaded a Vlog talking about former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo shouting the words “white power” while giving a Nazi salute at Dimefest, and Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn calling him out on it. In that video, I had two different people comment who had videos on their channel that were pure racist propaganda. Those are the type of people who should be reported according to the guidelines, but the guidelines that Youtube has for its content creators are incredibly broad and rarely enforced to the letter.
What I Hate Everything proceeded to do afterwards was put forward a video called Youtube is a Joke, where he pointed out a glaring weakness in Youtube as a grounds for content creation. When he browsed the front page of Youtube in an incognito tab in Chrome, what he saw was a bit disconcerting from the perspective of someone who is still growing his channel. The major recommendations were almost all from major television shows, or from major music labels. This means that any person who first signs up for a Youtube account is bombarded with content that already has an established audience off of the internet, stacking the deck against content creators working out of their homes and trying to establish themselves.
Beyond that, he makes another good point. Why is there not a “discover” tab? Why is there no feature where lesser known creators can be suggested to people based on their interest? Often times, suggestions for videos to watch on Youtube aren’t newer creators, but rather Buzzfeed-esque content or someone else in the million subscriber club who a) already has an established audience and b) is only loosely based on your prior interests. To use a personal example, I had to click “not interested” on Jim Sterling’s channel dozens of times before Youtube’s programming got the message. The ironic part of the timing is that it stopped when I uploaded a video called “Jim Sterling the Cuck.”
With Google being one of the dominant forces in the tech world, and with the digital medium giving voice to many new content creators, there needs to be a dedication at the highest levels to ensuring that new content creators are being taken care of. As someone with a history in business, the smart money is never with someone who only has a five year plan. You don’t do a five year plan for your retirement, and you don’t do one with raising your children, so why do one with your business? You can’t just base your decision making on people who are making vids for the next five years. You never know when someone like PewDiePie may walk away, or if someone like the Fine Brothers get sued into the ground (hypothetically speaking). To quote Paul Heyman, “you need to be looking for who is going to be your next A-Rod.”
The main concern that I’m trying to communicate here is that it doesn’t seem like Youtube is consistently on the lookout for how Youtube can continually be profitable for them in the next twenty years while they’re counting money from prank vids and girls dancing in thongs. Much as I appreciate a nice ass, you have to make sure that your methods of protecting your investment are stacked in the favor of the people who could be bringing in money and have long careers based on their video content. Needless to say, Youtube as a whole does not have a very good track record of this.
I’d like to take everyone back to Viacom International, Inc. v. YouTube, Inc, which is the court case that changed the landscape of content creation for a long time. To summarize, Viacom made an outlandish claim that there was massive amounts of videos on Youtube that engaged in copyright infringement. Despite the fact that Viacom did not win a single case or appeal, the case made Youtube paranoid at the highest levels, and after that case, copyright strikes became the biggest fear for content creators. Often times you would even see copyright strikes from automated systems that were completely unfounded, and videos that were clearly protected by Fair Use could still be flagged by an automated system. I myself faced this on a video of mine where I lambasted the ending of Mass Effect 3. EA attempted to claim they had a copyright on my video despite the fact that all of the gameplay footage was self-captured. They later retracted the claim, but they didn’t have grounds for it in the first place.
The whole automated system felt like big companies can play the system like most people play the game L.A. Noire. You accuse from the get go, and when someone asks for proof, you back off once you realize that the law protects the average man from being bent over a pinball machine and ravaged by a large company. Over time, once Youtube allowed for all people uploading videos to monetize them and permanently ditched the hard to reach “partner” milestone, these random strikes became less and less, and some content creators simply wouldn’t be able to monetize their videos in minor cases.
To be frank, the biggest protection doesn’t necessarily come from Youtube itself though. I myself am part of the network TGN, and aside from giving me certain distribution tools for my work, the big appeal of being part of a network is protection. Basically, if there is any sort of copyright clash, the grievances go to my network before they come to me, and the network intercepts and represents my interest as a creator. The catch is that I have to share some of my profit from my videos with said network. Now, for some creators there may not be much of an appeal. For me, due to the nature of the content that I upload it protects me from being randomly silenced by someone with a political bent or a company not happy with what I had to say about them. This same appeal might not seem as worthwhile to others though, which leaves only Youtube to defend their rights considering Youtube is giving them the platform.
To Youtube’s credit, back in November they announced that they would be working to protect content creators in cases of fair use, but they may be at a point where damage has been done. In having spoken to some content creators, it seems more like an attempt to protect the million subscriber club, considering Youtube could stand to lose a decent amount of money if Totalbiscuit, or my old boss Angry Joe were to have videos removed based on supposed copyright infringement. Given all of these recent controversies, skepticism is understandable.
With all of that said, the fact remains that Youtube simply doesn’t have the stability that it is going to need going forward as a platform. Many new creators are facing a long grind when it comes to creating new content and growing their audience. Often times the only real way to have early success is to have friends in high places. Youtube needs to integrate the tools to continue to broaden its base of content creators that are consistently making them money. They need to have a discover tab. They need to give suggestions to people that are combinations of smaller and larger channels to increase the possibility of growth. They also need to have a series of videos on Fair Use to make sure that their content creators have the proper tools to understand how to protect their channels in the long run and realize what the law is in regards to this business.
Finally, we’re at a point where the law needs to stick it to the companies and people responsible for trying to shut down discussion. Recently the Fine Brothers have tried to file copyright trademarks (and were approved) on the word “React” simply so they can make buck on any sort of “reaction” video, which is admittedly the current fad in Youtube land. They should be sued for this. I said it to Angry Joe in 2011, and I was just as right then as I am now. Nothing is going to change until someone gets subpoena’d. Something needs to happen in the court of law, and Youtube needs to wise up in regards to long term business plans. Cable is dying, and the internet doesn’t need to make the same mistakes.