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Online Stars Feel Cheated As YouTube, Facebook Battle Over Videos

Jack Douglass says he lost thousands of dollars when his YouTube video was uploaded to Facebook.
Jack Douglass says he lost thousands of dollars when his YouTube video was uploaded to Facebook.

There's a battle brewing between Facebook and the people who make professional videos on YouTube. Facebook has made video a priority over the past year and many of the most popular videos turn out to have originated on YouTube.

A lot of YouTube stars say Facebook is taking money right out of their pockets — and many of them are talking about big money.

Back in 2007, YouTube launched a program that split the revenue for ads it ran alongside videos with the people who made them. Since then it's paid out over $1 billion to people like Jack Douglass, who began making comedy videos in college.

"Years and millions of views later I am able to make a living," Douglass says. "And it wasn't always the case. It took forever. It wasn't really until 2010 or '11 that I was able to pay rent."

YouTube says there are now tens of thousands of people like Douglass who make substantial money from their YouTube creations.

Douglass does short satires of Internet culture. Earlier this year when everyone was trying to understand why some people saw a dress on the Internet as blue and black and others saw it as white and gold Douglass released a short spoof.

The video got 1 million views in one day on Douglass' YouTube channel. And then, he says, "a very popular Facebook group also downloaded this video from my YouTube site and re-uploaded it on their Facebook page where they have millions of followers and in the first 24 hours that video on Facebook got 20 million views."

Douglass says those 20 million views would have meant about $20,000 on YouTube. Instead, he made nothing.

Douglass's agency — Fullscreen — contacted Facebook and the company took down the video. But the damage was done. No one was interested in that video on his YouTube channel anymore.

"Because by then, by the time I uploaded it, it was done," he says. "Nobody was talking about the dress anymore. It came. It went. Boom! On to the next fad."

Douglass is one of many YouTube creators who are angry about the reposting of their material on Facebook. According to Ogilvy and Tubular Labs, of the thousand most popular videos on Facebook 725 were re-uploads from other sources.

Facebook would not talk directly to NPR. It pointed instead to a response to a critical blog post about its video system. In that response, Facebook says it takes intellectual property rights seriously and is trying to come up with a solution. Later this year, it's introducing a limited revenue-sharing program.

YouTube took many years to develop its own revenue-sharing program. And it was easier because the videos are on a public site, says Andreas Goeldi, the chief technology officer at Pixability, which tracks online videos and advertising. He says the challenge with Facebook is that it's made up of private pages.

"So in many cases there is this invisible content — you have no idea that people actually shared this stuff with other people," he says.

Ultimately it is hard to hold Facebook responsible for the copyright infringement on its site, says Kit Walsh, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group. There is a safe harbor protecting websites under copyright law.

"An intermediary that accepts content from users is not responsible for copyright infringement that they commit," Walsh says.

It's up to the creators of the content to let Facebook know if they find one of their videos, and then Facebook has to take it down.

Because Facebook has invested heavily in video it's likely we'll be hearing more about this issue. In April the company claimed its users watch 4 billion videos a day. And if it wants the best videos to stay up on its site it will need to find a way to make peace with the people who create them.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, andNPR.org.
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