Stolen Videos & Facebook Freebooting

Today seems to be the day we address what is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions. Was very excited to see that YouTube content creators like Hank Green and Smarter Every Day were starting to address it. It is a subject that has been on my mind for about a month. As it seems Facebook, while reporting how great their market share of video is and how well it is performing on mobile, left out for their shareholders and the world at large how they managed to do that. By colonizing like none other.

There is a decidedly colonial patriarchal capitalist attitude at work here. They are following, as Frank Green so rightly points out, the same schema that YouTube used in its early days. However YouTube wasn’t generating billions in ad revenue at the time. It was a scrappy little startup trying to revolutionize or disrupt the way we saw & shared video. Facebook’s milquetoast reply to all this furor should be critiqued heavily. Notice they did it in a magazine designed to appease their investors, not the public or content creators.

Fortune Magazine Facebook Updated Response to #Freebooting

As both Hank Green & Destin from Smarter Every Day point out so vividly — the damage is already done by the millions of views/shares/likes that it has already received. Not even accounting for the millions in revenue it generated for shareholders. Almost always this stolen copy is eclipsing the originals by huge margins. Banning that, blocking the repeat offenders, etc… does nothing in the way of assuaging their guilt or compensating the content’s rightful owner. The only thing it does is remove the evidence.

It still doesn’t punish the offenders in the algorithm or demote their page. They have accomplished what they set out to do. Get more engagement, rank higher and show up more often in people’s newsfeed.  With ‘organic reach’ at all time lows, it is no wonder people would resort to theft to increase what was once easily accesible to them. Not justifying it, saying that Facebook created the incentive for this theft, and as such should have expected it as a reasonable outcome to their strategy. So tell me again if this is “not new” to them, why they would allow it to happen & not insert themselves a bit more forcefully into stopping this? Where is the encouragement for these pages to stop doing this? Don’t bother looking it isn’t there.

Oh, right, because for all intents & purposes this horrible activity actually makes them look really good to Wall Street! The metrics look rock solid, and they are going to dominate the “market” for video content, alongside the deals they are making with top media outlets, Facebook is going to become the one stop shop. Don’t believe it. Normally I’d document this with tons of links to their last quarter filing and all the press & PR releases and posts they got touting this. I’ll leave it to you the reader to Google: “Facebook Video Marketing”

google facebook video marketing

A quick cursory glance at the Audible Magic system (where they swear they aren’t an eavesdropping service – yeah, right) tells you that it must not be working. The amount of pilfered video showing up in my really small newsfeed is amazing. Four or five a day. However it is good to know that you can register your content with them for free or low fee. That isn’t very viable for small fry viral video producers, but they have a roster of the big name Media Empires who register 250,000/videos a month with them.

The amount of video viewed on Facebook in a day is at FOUR BILLION. Every Day. Now from where I’m sitting, given the sketchy way they are measuring it, how much of that auto-roll video is pilfered? A great deal. The same could be said for YouTube as well, even this late in their game. Not a day goes by that I don’t see content stolen or invoked as “Fair Use” that really isn’t used fairly. Let me not digress into that arena or we’ll get totally lost.

For people, brands, small businesses, etc… video is the best way to market in the current climate. This is something my clients have heard for years now, however, if you create a great concept and try for something funny and memorable, then it is likely that a snippet of that will end up fueling engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram etc… without even a hint of attribution. Watermarking it might help, but then they’ll just crop that right out (esp on boxy platforms like Vine/Instagram) and slap their own watermark over it.

At what point do we hold the platforms themselves responsible for this? Sure the people who are uploading the stuff are to blame here, but if they are just exploiting a very lucrative loophole aren’t they just doing what the capitalist society encourages? Isn’t this the digital millennium’s neo-colonialism? Take the hard work of someone else, make money off of it, and when they die a miserable death, just move on & steal something else? Draining the natural resources and hard work of Generation Overshare and people who are trying to use these platforms to gain recognition for their talent & abilities or even just promote their business.

We should hold Facebook and company responsible. As Destin points out, in a slightly flawed comparison, because they are making ad revenue. He uses a screenshot of a theater version of the video (which my estimation, completely non-scientifically) is not the way most people are viewing the video. On mobile and even desktop most are just clicking play (if they play it all, not auto-rolled in mute) in their newsfeeds which doesn’t provide those ads to the side. That would be seen by the number of people who are commenting on it however. He also left off the fact that if this piece of content is performing better than others (as viral video does) — Facebook will use its notifications to get you to “Boost” this piece of content. So the pilfer could actually pay to use your content to promote their page and get even more views. Which in the case of some of these videos we have to assume is happening.

So Facebook is getting money hand over fist in this scheme. While offering a tepid ‘apology’ to Fortune magazine which their investors will think — ‘Yep, they have it handled…” when in reality from where I’m sitting they are making it up as they go along. Is there a hack-a-thon in the future to figure out a way to get these scurrilous pages demoted for using stolen content? Inquiring minds wanna know.

No, as long as it means big money for Facebook, and they continue to profit off of it, no matter how morally challenged and ethically compromised it is, the bottom line is it is good business for them. So it is incumbent upon us the consumers & the creators to hold them accountable.

One thought on “Stolen Videos & Facebook Freebooting

  1. UPDATE: The statement that appeared in Fortune was actually published in full at Medium (in response) and has a very wonderful comment section. Alas Medium needs to rethink the UX on their comment system as each one took me away when I tried to like and made for an overall really crappy experience. They need a way to expand them (accordion-style) and keep them threaded while also liking!

    The link for the “response” is here:

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