Rumbling with YouTube Re-Uploaders

July 03, 2020

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

Common Craft videos could not have become popular without YouTube. Starting in 2007, the site was our platform for sharing videos and it helped us reach millions of people. I’ll never forget uploading a new video and watching it get embedded on websites around the world.

When we uploaded our first video, RSS in Plain English, to YouTube, it took less than two days to see our first copy-cat. A guy in France created a version in French that was similar to ours and to his credit, he notified us and we said it was OK. He was inspired.

Over time, Common Craft copy-cats became common. Most of the time, they were people inspired by our work and experimenting with their own stories. We came to see it as an honor. We worked to protect our trademark and copyright, but didn’t try to prevent them from copying our style. Even today, we encourage people to use our style for their own videos. A search for “Common Craft Style” on YouTube yields thousands of results, mostly by students and teachers.

One of the side effects of using YouTube is the ease at which it’s possible to download and then re-upload a video to another account. This violates copyright law and YouTube’s terms of service. But it was difficult to stop. YouTube is full of people who steal other people’s videos and reupload them with ads so they can make money. Seeing it happen over and over was frustrating and often I would try to contact the account owner to ask them to remove our video. If they didn’t, I would have it taken down by YouTube on the basis of a copyright claim. In some cases, their accounts were suspended.

Sometimes trying to stop re-uploaders felt like I was removing a grain of sand from a beach. I could have spent weeks trying to remove the offending videos and still not have made a dent. I eventually assumed it was just part of using YouTube. This was a big reason we made commoncraft.com the home of our original videos. 

Last week, thirteen years after we started using it, YouTube released a Copyright Match Tool that sniffs out copyright violating videos and provides them in a nice list. If you choose, you can select and report them, fifty videos at a time. Finally, there was a way to know how our videos were being used on other accounts and it was surprising. 

The copyright tool found 1,164 Common Craft videos that were reuploaded to other accounts. When sorted by views, they added up to millions. The highest viewed video had 1.1 million views and others had hundreds of thousands. Many of the highest viewed videos had been edited to include a post-roll promotion for another company at the end. It was amazing and disheartening. 

As someone who makes his living on intellectual property, I’m thankful that YouTube is taking this issue seriously and providing options. When reporting a video, you can send the account a warning to remove the video in seven days, or have it taken down immediately. For now, we’re giving the accounts a chance to do the right thing before a formal takedown happens. My hope is that the tool will discourage people in the future.

More than anything else, I’m confident that we made the right decision to move away from YouTube years ago. Platform risk is real.

Watch early Common Craft videos on YouTube.

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