The trouble with YouTube
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The recent Fine Brothers fiasco highlighted some major problems with online video giant YouTube. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Amid an increasingly bizarre backdrop of erroneous copyright claims and disgruntled content creators, we spoke to one of the people whose livelihood was put at risk when YouTube wrongly suspended his account. 

Two weeks ago, a popular YouTuber with more than 350,000 subscribers attempted to log into his account, only to be informed that his channel had been suspended.

The reason? Someone had flagged his completely innocuous review of a thoroughly rubbish animated film as ‘inappropriate’. And YouTube had acted to shut him down as a result.

For the man behind ‘I Hate Everything’, whose YouTube channel is a full-time job, this was more than just an annoyance.

“It was obviously stressful because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to pay the bills or eat next month,” he says.

“YouTube is my livelihood currently. I was effectively fired from my job for no reason, which would worry any reasonable person.”

There is a tendency for the traditional media to misunderstand or even completely ignore the rapidly expanding world of online video.

But with children and teenagers in particular now spending significantly more time watching content on YouTube than on television, and more and more adults now following suit, a closer look at the way in which YouTube behaves towards its content creators is essential.

I myself now spend more time each day watching entertaining and informative YouTube channels than I do traditional broadcasting, and I’ve noticed plenty of my favourite creatives complaining about erroneous copyright strikes and unexplained channel takedowns for a while now.

With many of these people boasting subscriber bases in the six figures, and relying on their videos to make a living, such occurrences are nothing to be trivialised. And as it stands, YouTube’s infuriating automated system for those attempting to battle unjustified strikes or suspensions is woefully inadequate.

If YouTube really is the new TV, it needs to get better at protecting its best presenters.

Naturally, the internet itself is where this argument is already being made.

The treatment of I Hate Everything’s creator, who prefers to be known simply as ‘Alex’, sparked an outcry from the wider YouTube community. Fellow content creators united to pledge their support and call for the channel’s reinstatement. The hashtag #FREEIHE even started to gain ground on Twitter.

But although I Hate Everything was eventually reinstated, Alex was given little explanation or redress from YouTube, and was left wondering whether this kind of sudden takedown could happen without warning again.

This isn’t an isolated incident either.

A host of sizeable YouTube accounts have had restrictions imposed upon them, videos removed, or have been suspended entirely in recent weeks, with little explanation as to why.

“I’ve spoken to numerous other people who went through the same,” Alex notes. “Some took it better than others, but everyone found it to be a nerve-wracking time.”

One of the most common reasons for account suspensions appears to be copyright claims made against videos through YouTube’s automated DMCA system.

In theory, it’s there to allow companies and individuals to prevent their work being stolen or illegally shared online. In practice, it’s often used to erroneously flag reviews or analysis videos that feature clips and footage which clearly fall under ‘fair use’, or even take down videos that certain people simply do not like.

In one recent incident, both I Hate Everything and popular film criticism channel Your Movie Sucks had strikes made against them by the director of a terrible family movie called Cool Cat Saves The Kids, which they had simply lampooned. In the case of YMS, this was just the latest in a series of unfair copyright claims made since the channel began.

For content creators, the frustration is compounded by the fact that YouTube strikes apply automatically, the onus is on them to counter-claim, and the system for doing so is extremely convoluted and poorly managed.

As Alex explains:

“Every system is flawed and broken, and assumes you’re guilty until proven innocent. The copyright and strike system needs a complete redesign.”

There’s a growing perception that a small number of truly massive channels – boasting many millions of subscribers – are permitted preferential treatment and protection too.

This week, we covered the controversy that exploded across the online community and social media when successful YouTube channel The Fine Brothers attempted to trademark and license ‘reaction videos’, an entire genre of content. Details of other channels having their own reaction videos taken down due to copyright notices then emerged.

One thing that was immediately noticeable was the severe lack of major news organisations covering the Fine Bros situation, at least initially. And, where they were reporting the initial announcement, the development was actually billed as a positive one – something to be admired, or celebrated.

Eventually the backlash from the online community against the Fine Bros resulted in the duo backing down. But it highlighted a major issue with the way that YouTube handles its content creators.

“It was nice to see the community band together against terrible ideas that benefit nobody but the conglomerate,” notes Alex.

“Hopefully all this drama will make YouTube take a look at changing it, that’s the hope at least. They don’t have to do anything though because they are so dominant in the online video market.”

That dominance is a point that’s being made increasingly vocally around the web.

Do we need a viable competitor to YouTube to emerge, so that content creators have choice and YouTube is forced to maintain a certain standard of service?

“In theory it would be wonderful, and would force YouTube to adapt,” replies Alex. “But honestly I cannot see it happening anytime soon, They’re just too dominant.”

As for Alex, he did eventually receive a belated apology…

…and his subscriber base has now passed the 400,000 mark.

But the future remains uncertain.

“My gut tells me that nothing of consequence will come of it. But I’ll remain optimistic for the time being.”

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