YouTube Content Creators Unite to Battle Unfair Copyright Lawsuits
Reaction Videos and the fight for Fair Use Protection
**The following was originally published to my newsletter**
I’ve been following a drama that has been unfolding over the past few weeks involving a legal battle between two channels over one of the most popular forms of videos online: the reaction video.
Reaction Vids: A Brief History
Reaction videos are a sub-genre of online content where people record themselves or others reacting to something: a prank, a movie trailer, something scary, a surprise situation, etc. You name it and someone has probably recorded themselves reacting to it.
The first ever reaction video was uploaded in 2006: a blurry home video of a little boy unwrapping a N64 gaming console on Christmas morning in 1998. His response became legendary. (Warning: be sure to lower the volume if you’re watching with headphones or at work.) A online sensation was born!
A few examples:
- The classic David After Dentist [ sub-genre: Anesthesia post surgery]
- Game of Thrones: Reaction to the Red Wedding [sub-genre: Big Plot Reveal]
- People Getting surprised with PUPPIES [sub-genre: Pet Surprises/ My Childhood Dream]
- The brilliantly done Interstellar Star Wars Reaction [sub-genre: Meta Pop Culture]
What’s the Issue?
- Ethan and Hila Klein, are the creators of H3H3 Productions, a YouTube channel that mainly specializes in reaction video content and has over 2 million subscribers.
- Matt Hoss, creator of the Matt Hoss Zone, a YouTube Channel that creates scripted videos where Hoss stars as “The Bold Guy,” a “Parkour Enthusiast/Pick Up Artist” with around 175,000 subscribers. (Yes, it’s as cringeworthy as it sounds.)
The Kleins created a reaction video making fun of one of Hoss’ videos.
Hoss is suing the Kleins for copyright infringement, arguing that the couple used too much of his original content in their reaction video, which has since been removed during the pending litigation.
The Kleins are countering that they are protected by Fair Use Laws, and that this lawsuit sets a dangerous precedent that could impact the way content creators like them make and share content on YouTube. The legal battle is expected to last for two years and cost over $100,000 USD.
Where’s the Drama?
The Internet is taking sides, and in the court of public opinion, Hoss isn’t looking so hot. His social media channels have been overrun with negative comments, insults and downvotes. General opinion seems to be that Hoss couldn’t take being made fun of and is using the legal system to intimidate the Kleins.
What Caught My Interest:
- A community coming together:
After Ethan and Hila announced they were being sued to their millions of subscribers, YouTuber Philip DeFranco started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the duo’s legal costs, and kicked things off with a $5,000 contribution. The online community responded with overwhelming support, and $167,672 was raised.
Donations came from several influential YouTubers including The Fine Brothers (20 million subscribers across all channels) who donated $10,000, demonstrating one of the first time the YouTube community has banded together to tackle some of the legal ramifications of creating content in this changing digital landscape.
I called out the Fine Brothers specifically. As one of the most prolific YouTube users they have built their brand on producing reaction videos. Earlier this year they tried to trademark reaction videos as a part of a licensing business model they hoped to launch. There was a massive online backlash, and they lost over 2 million subscribers. The brothers later issued a public apology and released their claims on the terms. Their support here makes an important statement of solidarity and ensures other channels will follow suit.
I’m hoping this will set a precedent to have online communities mobilize in a positive way, one that can create actual changes then some of the general mob-mentality insanity where people are telling Hoss to “go kill himself.” Let’s try to focus on creating support structures that can help content creators instead of just trolling those who might not act in a way that we agree with.
2. FUPA FTW:
The Kleins decided to do something really cool: they’ve announced that they’ve placed the money in an escrow account managed by their lawyers, and any money left over from their legal fees will be used to create a fund to help any YouTuber who is being sued for copy right infringement in the future. This is the first fund of it’s kind, and is a great step forward for helping those who don’t have the financial resources to access legal aid.
However, proving that the Internet will never grow up, they are calling it the Fair Use Protection Act or…FUPA for short, lol. (Google it if you don’t get the joke.)
3. Intellectual Property Implications for Content Creators
Despite the fact that criticism and commentary are protected under the Copyright Act, you still have to prove that you’re using the content legally — and that takes time and costs money. You can’t go around shouting Fair Use, and hoping it will go away. Just because the law protects you doesn’t mean you’ll be safe from having to go to court.
4. The Corporatization of Content and the Importance of Ecosystems
Moving forward, intellectual property rights around online content will continue to evolve and content creators are demanding more support and infrastructure from the platforms they use. It’s beginning now with YouTube, but will eventually spread to other ecosystems (Amazon self-publishing, I’m looking at you.)
Last year, YouTube announced it would dedicate resources to help creators fight unjust claims, and it will be interesting to see how their technology backend is updated to reflect this changing demand from users and the how it will respond to this new strategic priority.
A Mirrored Response
I find reaction videos fascinating because of their uniformity across genres and cultures. Reaction videos create a distributed shared experience that makes us feel connected even when the interaction is itself disjointed. Watching someone’s reaction to a movie I’m thrilled about is like sharing the excitement, a one-way connection that is still emotionally satisfying.
In a broader sense, they also tap into our commonality as a species. Regardless of who we are or where we’re from, celebrating a marriage proposal or watching someone prank a family member are moments we can all relate to. I believe these videos help us feel a little more connected to each other, sharing joys, laughter and surprises without borders. Watching these videos help us tap into our empathy and enable us to use emotional cues to make sense of the world around us.
If you’ve found the above interesting, please consider spreading the word! And you might also enjoy my monthly newsletter where I share research from my current projects, as well as talk about digital culture, creativity, productivity, and tech. Here’s one I wrote about Leo’s Oscar Meme frenzy. And one about Abe Lincoln’s use of the world Hustle. Happy reading!