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                   Monday, September 28, 2015

For small creators, "freebooting" relief may only come from a legislative solution

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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I started my current Youtube channel in November of 2012 as a platform for my storm chasing and weather news coverage videos. Today, my channel has over 12,000 subscribers and over 16 million views. Prior to October 2013, my videos were posted on a former broker's channel, where they garnered more than 4.5 million views - bringing my all-time views total to well over 20 million. That's insignificant when compared to Overly Attached Girlfriend or Epic Rap Battles of History, and I haven't been able to quit my day job. Nonetheless, the Youtube channel's revenue has been nothing to sneeze at. Averaged over the past five years, Youtube video revenue has exceeded my network television ENG revenue from same-day news/weather video sales. In other words, a video I capture that goes viral on Youtube can bring in more long-term revenue than if I made an ENG sale of that video to all of the national news networks!

So important is Youtube to my video operation that I now stipulate in ENG contracts that no competing copies of my videos can be posted to other Youtube channels. Why? Competing copies take views away from my original copy (and can go viral in leu of my copy), and fewer views mean less revenue for me - less money to pay my electric bill or put new tires on my car to go shoot more videos. I essentially treat Youtube as another national news broadcaster, because they are, and the numbers prove it.

In other words, Youtube - and the internet in general - is becoming the major player in video distribution. It is important where videos get posted and where they are getting views. That's where the copyright infringement problem comes in.

"Freebooting" isn't new

Freebooting isn't a new thing. On Youtube, it's been happening since day one. Any popular video (over, say, 500,000 views) will get repeatedly stolen and re-uploaded to pirating channels, and my most popular videos are no exception. Now if I were a mega-corporation like Viacom, NBC or an Epic Rap Battles of History-sized channel, I would be a shoo-in for Youtube's Content ID system. Content ID automatically scans the Youtube system for videos that match the ones already uploaded, automatically flagging them and giving the copyright holder a choice on what to do (like remove the video or claim the ad revenue on it).

But I'm no mega-corporation. Like millions of other Youtube content creators, I'm one of the 'little guys'. I've applied for Content ID twice over the past 3 years. The first time, I was immediately rejected. I was finally allowed to send in a second application back in April of 2015, for which I have yet to receive a response.

What it's like dealing with infringement as a small-time creator

Without Content ID, I must manually search for my videos on a daily basis, using about 40 different sets of keywords. I have to go through the search results, open up each suspect video and watch it - or, (if I'm lucky to get it) use the seek bar preview to visually scan through the contents of the video quickly. When I find an infringing video, I must click through Youtube's DMCA form links and fill out the takedown form manually. The form requires I bring up my list of over 330 videos, retrieve the link to the original copy, then paste that into the form manually. Most days, this process takes about an hour of my time - and that's unpaid time. Every day.

To date, I've spent more total time on dealing with the infringement issue than I have shooting the original videos.

To add insult to injury, Youtube limits me to ten DMCA takedown forms at a time. If a channel steals multiple videos from me, and I hit that form limit, I have to wait 15-20 minutes before I can send another one. Not only that, but in the past few months, Google has started forcing a captcha entry into about every 5 or 6 of my keyword searches, further slowing what is already a tedious process. Meanwhile, pirates can effortlessly set up a monetized channel, mass-upload thousands of stolen videos and have money pouring into their bank accounts from the start, all with no vetting process. It seems that Google/Youtube is doing everything they can to streamline the money-making process for thieves while placing more and more hurdles in front of my efforts to deal with it. Is it intentional? You be the judge.

Even with my diligent daily searches, stolen copies of my videos still fall through the cracks. Every once in a while, I'll get tipped off to one by a friend or Twitter/Facebook follower who just happened to see it and recognized my work. If I'm lucky, that missed copy will be newly posted with very few views. More often than not, it will be one that's been up for months with hundreds of thousands of monetized views. I've lost over one million total monetized views from these 'missed' infringements, and those are just the ones I know about.

I'm now at over 700 DMCA takedowns sent to Youtube alone, mostly for the same 6 or 7 videos. All of those were manually discovered with keyword searches and removed with manually-filled out DMCA forms. It's not a stretch to say that from the DMCA form submission history, Youtube knows that my videos will likely be stolen again and again in the future, and that I can't hope to find all of them before some rack up serious monetized views. They and the pirates stand to gain advertising revenue from these thefts, and therefore are in no hurry to help me with Content ID. Google/Youtube is an inaccessible company in terms of customer service, with no way to get in contact with anyone to discuss the problem. I can only fill out a feedback form or post in the user forums, where to date I've received no help.

Youtube's treatment of small creators may foretell how Facebook handles freebooting

All this talk of Facebook unveiling a Content ID equivalent, I fear, will mean nothing to small-time creators. Facebook, like Youtube, is unlikely to grant access to this tool to anyone but the most large and powerful corporations and stars. The 'little guys' can probably expect to continue to get ripped off by pirates on both platforms, bearing the full burden of finding infringments and manually issuing takedowns.

Unfortunately, the only chance of relief for the small-timers will have to come from legislation: something that either forces the big companies who directly benefit financially from the infringements to take some of the responsibility, or tougher laws that give even small-time copyright holders some real power to take action themselves without prohibitive legal costs.

I'm printing out a hard copy of this blog post as a letter to send to representatives in Congress. Google/Youtube, are you listening? I would like to hear a response from you. I've already sent feedback through your forms in the past (with no response).

The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

What gets me is why YouTube does not crack down on peope using script generators to get lots of views. Why do some well shot tornado videos only get 150 views, while the guy with the shakey camera gets 150,000. That is what I don't get. It has been so much about "views" and "likes" nowadays that I believe that is the only sole purpose of why some people chase storms. Before social media and its instant popularity, they would of cared less about the weather.. NOT saying this is you, its just what I see every where. It's sad that storm chasing has become a competitive ego trip against each other for the few pennies it might give. How does one actually go about asking for money if media wants to use your photo? I am under the impression that if I ask them that I want money, they would just go to the next guy with just as good of a photo to donate for free. I DO NOT understand the business end of this at all.
- Posted by Jake Stehli from Hartford, Wisconsin

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