YouTube personalities have reacted angrily to an aggressive series of copyright claims made by the Fullscreen network against H3H3 productions, a popular comedy channel that mocked one of the network’s partner channels.
As well as disabling H3H3’s most popular video with copyright complaints, Fullscreen allegedly threatened to “destroy” their channel if they do not co-operate.
The dispute began after H3H3 host Ethan Klein published a derisive video about “Prank Invasion,” a partner of the Fullscreen network. Prank Invasion specialises in public “pranks” on alleged strangers, although they have been accused of scripting their videos.
These concerns were echoed by Ethan Klein, who warned viewers against imitating a Prank Invasion video in which the host attempts to “prank” strangers into kissing him. “Don’t try this at home guys,” says Klein. “You’re going to get slapped, you’re going to get pepper-sprayed, you might even get arrested. This is fake, it’s not how the world works.”
Fullscreen responded by lodging a copyright claim against Klein’s video, which ultimately led to its removal from H3H3’s channel. Up until that point, it had been their most popular video.
Under US law, creators are allowed to use copyrighted content for the purpose of commentary. Klein’s video, which remains accessible on other channels, seems to fall into this category, with the bulk of the video featuring Klein’s commentary rather than Prank Invasion’s content. Despite this, it appears that YouTube has taken Fullscreen’s side, lodging a “copyright strike” against H3H3’s channel.
According to H3H3, it was Fullscreen who decided to launch a copyright claim, not Prank Invasion, who wanted H3H3’s video to remain up.
To maintain the delicate balance between intellectual property rights and the freedom of creators, YouTube has developed a complex system to manage copyright disputes. Channel owners are allowed to host copyrighted content, but rights holders are able to claim any ad revenue that their content receives. If channel owners refuse, rights holders can ask YouTube to remove the content, leading to a strike against the channel that hosted it. Three of these strikes causes a channel to be deleted.
Founded over three years ago, H3H3 productions have attracted a cult following on the web. Their mix of satire, commentary, and jarring remixes has won them over 25 million views on YouTube, as well as a page on KnowYourMeme, one of the leading indexes of internet culture. However, thanks to Fullscreen’s complaint, their channel is now just two strikes away from deletion. Thanks to the initial strike, H3H3’s own network, Collective DS, has also suspended monetization on all of their videos.
Multi-channel networks (MCNs) are collections of multiple YouTube channels that agree to partner with a company. MCNs attract new and rising creators by offering assistance with marketing, promotion, collaboration, audience development, and a host of other services in exchange for a percentage of ad revenue. Many MCNs offer to manage their partners’ copyright claims — aggressively so, in the case of Fullscreen.
The rise of multi-channel networks has not been without controversy. Stories about exploitative practices have led to bad press for the networks, who are not helped by their corporate image. Maker Studios, a multi-channel network owned by Disney, faced a public scandal in 2012 after allegedly pressuring prominent YouTuber Ray William Johnson to sign away 40% of his Google AdSense revenue and 50% of his intellectual property rights.
YouTube’s largest video games network, Machinima, meanwhile, has attracted criticism for its use of lifetime contracts, in which creators — sometimes unwittingly — sign away the rights to all content published on their channel in perpetuity. Bachir “Athene” Boumaaza, one of YouTube’s earliest video games stars, also criticised the network for “intimidating multiple partners” into underwhelming revenue deals.
“In these early stages of YouTube channel capitalization, artists need to be wary of sharks swimming in these waters,” warned TechDirt.
H3H3 clearly believe that they have encountered one of those sharks. “The system put in place by YouTube sucks,” said Ethan Klein in a recent video addressing the controversy (see below.) “But it sucks even more that [Fullscreen], whose slogan is ‘power to the creators,’ is exploiting that system to f**k over people trying to make a living.”
“So power to the creators, Fullscreen! … You’re doing some great work in the world of YouTube!”
According to Klein, all third-party content on his channel is within the bounds of Fair Use, a copyright exception in U.S. law which allows for the use of copyrighted content for the purpose of (among other things) commentary and parody.
Copyright exceptions like Fair Use have become highly important to satirists and commentators seeking to protect their content from increasingly aggressive rights-holders. Earlier this year, the popular YouTuber Sargon of Akkad used a similar exception to fight an erroneous copyright claim from the Guardian newspaper.
More astonishing than the alleged misuse of copyright law (a common occurrence on YouTube) are the claims made about Fullscreen’s negotiations with his own network, which, according to Klein, included outright intimidation.
“Our network collective, over the phone told us that Fullscreen had called them and urged us to remove the video.” Klein told Breitbart. “He said explicitly that he would destroy our channel, and do everything in their power to have it removed.”
The story generated anger among other prominent YouTubers, with popular personalities like Stephen “Boogie2988” Williams and Jon “JonTron” Jafari adding their voices to the condemnation of Fullscreen on Twitter.
— Jon Jafari (@JonTronShow) August 4, 2015
This is the kind of shit that ruins youtube. Come see first hand what MCN'S do to keep smaller youtubers down. https://t.co/pKSZN3lSwA
— Boogie2988 (@Boogie2988) August 4, 2015
— Austin Hargrave (@PeanutButterGmr) August 4, 2015
— Philip DeFranco (@PhillyD) August 5, 2015
— Just Call Me Mister (@MisterMetokur) August 5, 2015
Many of these creators have hundreds of thousands of subscribers on their YouTube channels. Their critiques of Fullscreen have already received thousands of retweets, and any videos that they create on the topic would result in even more negative exposure for the network. For a company that wants to attract aspiring YouTube talent, it’s not a good position to be in.
Note: We reached out to Fullscreen for comment prior to publishing this article. Thanks to the power of Gmail add-ons, I know that my request for comment has (so far) been read 27 times by the company. They have yet to reply.
Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter