So today, I went through my Twitter feed and found an interesting tidbit. Apparently, YouTube is planning to launch a community-based program called YouTube Heroes.
Let me go over that again. This program allows you to flag videos, add captions/subtitles to videos, and share information—stuff people already do. However, the YouTube Heroes community rewards you for it by giving you more powerful moderation commands, keep in touch with YouTube staff—seriously, that was never a thing?—, and let you beta test new products.
Yes, you earn points by flagging as many videos as you can.
Sorry, but NO! FUCK NO. THIS IDEA IS PURE GARBAGE. WHAT KIND OF CRACK ARE THE PEOPLE BEHIND THIS IDEA SMOKING?!
YouTube’s Downward Spiral
Normally, I keep politics out of my discussions and content but I’m going to make an exception here since this program is potentially going to be the bane of all YouTube content creators and ultimately set a poor example on how we should be dealing with any kind of video content—including the ones we don’t like or make us feel uncomfortable.
For those who don’t know, let me give a quick rundown of the downward spiral that YouTube had been going. Sometime in late 2013, YouTube enacted something called the Content ID system. This system allows copyright holders to claim specific types of media (images, music, video footage) as their own and automatically punish anyone who uses those specific media.
In other words, it gives copyright holders the right to run your YouTube channel down to the ground if you use their media. This is done by filing a copyright claim against your channel, which will disable monetization of the video and redirect the money to the company itself. This may even prevent viewers from watching it worldwide. If you fail to dispute the claim and hold three claims in total, you lose your channel. That’s it.
Here is the only reason where I can see a system like this work: people may use channels to upload whole movies, TV episodes and songs without the creator’s or publisher’s permission. Not only that, but they may share free downloads of those copyrighted works too. If this were to keep going, YouTube can become an online piracy site, which can put the site and the whole service in danger of getting sued. Naturally, copyright holders need pay for something they dropped literally hours upon hours into making. It’s only fair, because piracy can make all that time and effort worthless. And the money you end up making won’t even be enough to pay your bills.
But things are not that simple. Some people make impostor accounts and try to pass as legitimate copyright holders and companies, then tell YouTube that they’re owners of a certain piece of media without proof. Naturally, people outright abuse the Content ID system in order to troll content creators or even steal the ad revenue they make on their videos. Because YouTube fails to manually enforce its own system, false and fraudulent copyright claims have been thrown around left and right.
Check these videos by Joe Vargas (AngryJoe) and Adam Jonhston (YourMovieSucksDOTorg) for further details.
So as you heard, they often bring up something called 17 U.S. Code § 107 – Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use. Or in short, Fair Use. Fair Use allows content creators to use copyrighted works for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research without actually violating copyright. Fair Use applies to anyone who makes money on these derivative works or anyone who creates derivative works for non-profit purposes.
But ever since YouTube had the Content ID system in 2013, fraudulent copyright claims grew much more frequent and many content creators either get the kibosh or can’t earn enough money to justify the amount of time making the videos. The worst part is that those users who file those claims to begin with receive no punishment, meaning they can send as many fraudulent claims against your channel as they want just so they can fuck you over.
And guess what? YouTube staff did next to nothing to keep this under control, which leads us to the next major point: #WTFU.
The #WTFU Protest
In early 2016, Doug Walker (best known as the Nostalgia Critic) posted a video and popularized the hashtag #WTFU. Or “Where’s the Fair Use?” He made this video in response to some of his own videos getting copyright strikes.
Other content creators such as boogie2988, I Hate Everything, TheMysteriousMrEnter, Anime America, Saberspark, and many others have also responded in light of the recent copyright strikes happening around the time. At one point or another, I have watched videos from each of those channels and acknowledged that those videos are separate creations from the actual copyrighted material. The people behind them try hard to stay within YouTube’s restrictions while still doing their own thing, but it seems like that’s not enough.
These channels generally deal with reviews, commentary, criticism, interviews and other forms of journalism based on creative works, copyrighted or not. However, YouTube’s Content ID system never let up and so many channels continue to receive fraudulent claims to this day. No matter how big you’re making it on YouTube, everyone is subject to this broken and unregulated system. This is the reality that ALL CONTENT CREATORS on YouTube are facing. At this rate, it will be much less likely for independent film studios and filmmakers to succeed on their own. You won’t be getting your free videos to watch and those people won’t be making nearly enough money from ad revenue.
In the long run, it makes little sense for YouTube staff to be this awful to content creators. After all, YouTube managed to be where it is today because of the labor of those independent content creators. Even though I don’t run an official Breaking Canon YouTube channel at this point—though I had thought about it—and this doesn’t affect me heavily, this still pisses me off.
Why? Because I enjoyed those types of videos during my leisure and I loved listening to other people’s viewpoints on creative works. It’s part of my passion too. But to see those people getting screwed over because YouTube staff bends over backwards for large media corporations and even common thieves impersonating as large media corporations, I feel like I must speak out as well. Those people may stop making videos for the public if the system won’t even let them show those videos in the first place.
YouTube Heroes: The Next Step into Google’s Degeneracy?
So back to the point on YouTube Heroes. What does this mean for content creators? Will it extend to even harmless videos that use no copyrighted material at all?
This is the serious danger present in the YouTube Heroes program. Instead of having paid workers with fair and impartial judgement when removing videos, YouTube staff is leaving this to anyone who volunteers to be in the program in exchange for some prestige and perks. That means ANY idiot with no prior experience and could be biased as hell can apply. This goes without saying but this is just a setup for an even more broken system than before.
The application process: any individual user, not a business or brand, can apply for the program as long as they have a channel and are of legal age to own a channel.
Here are my questions though: is there any screening? Any interviews? Is this running alongside the Content ID system or a substitute? How are people selected? What happens if the user abuses power? ANY way to determine if the user may make biased judgement or abuse power to take down channels of those that person doesn’t like? ANY WAY TO PREVENT THE ABUSE IN THE FIRST PLACE?
There are absolutely no details on how this even works, so naturally people are going to be skeptical of this whole shady deal. It’s even worse when the actual video introducing YouTube Heroes claims that you can flag numerous videos in one command. There’s something seriously wrong with that. You can easily terminate a channel in a few seconds from just doing that, and you’re giving that power to some of the more popular and prestigious YouTubers. You know, the same people that can potentially terminate any rising competition so that their own popularity remains?
Because YouTube staff had been largely unresponsive to criticism about the Content ID system and had no active involvement in fighting off abuse, what makes anyone so sure that there are precautions to prevent the YouTube Heroes system from being abused as well? Sorry if I sound pessimistic, but I’ve been having little faith in YouTube at this point considering the poor track record in responding to bad copyright claims.
We know little about YouTube’s new toy but I will very much like to investigate this program further and predict how much damage it could cause. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled if you’re among the YouTubers who create original content for a living. Whether this will work in your favor or someone else’s, only time will tell now.
Now might be the time for an entrepreneur out there to launch a strong competitor. One that follows the old days of YouTube before its purchase by Google. No heavy restrictions on what kind of content gets uploaded but also deals with copyright issues in a quick, competent manner.
If any employee from Google or YouTube is reading this—which may or may not happen—, people are not going to pull punches here.
You can’t just throw in major changes into your services and expect your customers to be okay with it or live with it. You need to stop crapping on the same people that are bringing more people to use your services, or you can expect them to leave when a much better service comes along. You are NOT above the law, which is why you need to take this shit more seriously. You are part of one of the biggest multi-billion dollar corporations in the world, so trying to outsource serious work to unpaid volunteers is just lazy. Actually listen to what the people are saying about your services and stop trying to avoid the real problem. We’re not that stupid.
Sincerely, Orion from Breaking Canon