There are possibly millions of infringing videos on YouTube and for the most part users see it as a bonus.
This week, however, I stumbled across a suspect video on the site and the resulting cascade of emotions made me wonder: Don't we all appreciate copyrights and get annoyed by piracy when conditions are just right?
Like everyone reading this piece I have often seen pirated content on YouTube. The site is littered with hundreds maybe thousands of movies and TV shows, none of them uploaded by copyright holders.
Equally, if one wants to listen to just about any rare song, no matter how old, a YouTube search will uncover it. In most cases those songs haven’t been uploaded by their owners but when looking for any kind of desirable content, you have to have massive self-control to immediately click off.
Well this week, I did. And I was pretty infuriated while doing so.
While browsing one evening I noticed what I believed to be a new video from the Hydraulic Press Channel (HPC). For those who aren’t familiar with HPC it’s a channel, on YouTube, dedicated to crushing things in a hydraulic press. It’s almost as simple as that. It’s basic. It’sfun. And in a few months it has amassed a huge following.
What I clicked on was a video compilation of the top 10 things crushed by the channel, but something was wrong. The massively entertaining voice of channel host and resident crusher Lauri Vuohensilta was entirely missing. His wife wasn’t giggling in the background as she usually is either.
In fact, all I was witnessing was items getting crushed, one after the other and it left me cold. Then it dawned on me. I looked at the uploader name expecting the worst. I didn’t recognize it. Yep, this was an imposter. A freebooter.
This was definitely not the Hydraulic Press Channel and a quick look at the video notes confirmed it.
“A compilation of everything hydraulic press channel has crushed yet. None of it is mine, all belongs to hydraulic press channel.”
So why take it then? It’s already available for free on the official channel, I found myself shouting.
Worse still, this “stolen” video had amassed more than 400,000 views and i’d contributed to that not just once but twice when I went back for the screenshot. Somehow I felt disproportionately annoyed that this stupid compilation was taking revenue away from the hugely funny Lauri and his giggling wife.
And in that i’m not alone. At the time of writing a third of the video’s votes are in the downward direction versus around one in 35 on the original channel. Furthermore, the comment section is littered with people angry that RandomStuff98 “stole” the content from Hydraulic Press Channel (HPC).
And here’s another interesting twist. I chatted with a couple of uploaders on a popular torrent site and although one didn’t express an opinion either way, the other said that he didn’t agree with people “stealing” YouTuber’s videos. This is coming from someone who uploads at least two dozen torrents a day.
With that in mind, one has to question how many of the outraged commenters on YouTube would also have concerns over the ethics of grabbing the latest leaked DVD screener from The Pirate Bay. My estimate is not very many of them.
I wasn’t sure why people “stealing” HPC’s content was so irritating but I presumed that it was partially down to the fact that the guy running the channel feels like “one of us”. He seems like an ordinary guy that you could go out and have a beer and a laugh with. That in itself makes it more personal, I suppose.
To get a bit more of an insight I shared my thoughts with musician and YouTube star Dan Bull who has tens of millions of hits under his belt. Did he have any idea why myself, a prolific torrent uploader, and plenty of YouTuber’s feel protective of more ‘amateur’ content?
“I think I can give you an explanation as to why mirroring a YouTube video is ethically different to sharing a Hollywood movie despite them being the same legally,” Dan told me.
“It’s a difficult topic as the same rationale that can be used for file-sharing, or abolition of copright, can be used to say that this kind of behavior is fine.
However, if you look a bit more closely, it’s really much more of a dick move than hosting a torrent file,” he continued.
“When you share a movie, you’re making something accessible to people who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t be able to see it. In contrast, when you simply mirror someone else’s YouTube video on your own channel, it’s not making the media any more accessible, it’s just redirecting traffic from the original uploader, who in most cases on YouTube is a small-time independent content creator.”
Dan notes that the DMCA and Content ID on YouTube allow original creators to takedown or monetize mirrored content, but he prefers not to use them.
“I am not a fan of either of those practices in any case as I don’t believe in the validity of intellectual property. But I do think that when uploading someone else’s content, you should always take a moment to consider whether it’s a dick move or not,” he concludes.
Of course, infringement is infringement, whether it’s ripping off the work of Hydraulic Press Channel or sharing the movies made by the studio members of the MPAA. Yet somehow it feels quite different. Few (if any) YouTube users complain about people uploading infringing blockbuster movies to the site yet HPC “pirates” get it with both barrels from commenters with no obvious respect for copyright law, only a sense of what is “right”.
If there was a way to bottle that kind of reaction and apply it to mainstream content, Hollywood might crack the piracy problem. But what aspect of this strange situation can they harness, what’s the secret recipe, and how can it be utilized?