YouTubers Need to Get a Grip on Copyright

Addressing copyright misconceptions in content creation, citing a case from YouTuber Broogli's latest video. Emphasizing understanding licenses and verifying copyright before using media in creative content to avoid unintentional infringements and copyright claims.

YouTubers Need to Get a Grip on Copyright
Photo by Nubelson Fernandes / Unsplash

As a primer, this is the video that inspired me to make this post. While this post isn't meant to rip into this creator specifically, I will be using their arguments as the basis for this post. So give it a watch to hear them out first.

"Horrible News for the Backrooms Community." by Broogli. Video duration: 8:59

My main complaint in this post is how many content creators out there don't seem to understand how copyright works. It seems like many creators just go by vibes and feelings, instead of licensing. Importantly, however, I believe that Broogli is in the right when it comes to this particular copyright case. But he's wrong about why he's in the right.

So what's the copyright issue at the heart of this video? Some undisclosed entity copyright struck the video that Broogli put out earlier this month. They struck the video over an image that is shown from timestamp 0:18 to 0:31. The issue with this copyright strike is that the image in question is free to use.

Giant Food, Burtonsville, Maryland / Ben Schumin / CC BY-SA 2.0

The image above is the image in question. I found it on Wikimedia Commons and Ben Schumin's flickr account. Both places have the image listed as created by Ben Schumin and with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. This license allows for the image to be shared for any purpose and to be transformed for any purpose. The only requirements are for the creator to be credited and that the license be included in any works that use the image.

Ben Schumin
Ben Schumin is a professional photographer who captures the intricacies of daily life.

Check out Ben's works, he has some pretty cool photos!

So if the image's license allows for the usage in the video that got copyright struck, why was the strike issued? I have a feeling that this is yet another case of automated copyright enforcement on YouTube. It's probably some holdings company that incorrectly thinks they have the copyright over the image and has a bot out there scanning for it in videos.

It could even be the company Pixsy that Ben has contracted with, seeing how his newer works are not free to use. According to his content licensing page, any content newer than 2014 cannot be used for commercial purposes. So this company might have just added all of Ben's content to their scanning, instead of just the newer content.

Either way, this just seems to be yet another automation fuck up.

a close up of a sign on a sidewalk
Photo by Umberto / Unsplash

Lack of Knowledge

But now for the main issue at hand. In Broogli's video, he makes various arguments about his use of the image and copyright in general that are just incorrect.

To start, Broogli's argument about the usage of the image focuses on the whole scene, instead of the usage of the image. He goes on about how the image is blurred, the scene is a promotion for his own merch, and that his original characters are front and centre. But all that doesn't matter when it comes to copyright! What does matter is that the image was used, and how it was used.

For example, if we assume that the image in question was not free to use for commercial purposes, then this usage of the image would violate the copyright. It wouldn't matter that the scene wasn't focusing on the image. All that matters is that the image was used and that it was used for commercial purposes. Luckily, that's not the case here.

Broogli also talks about how this, and other liminal space images, are just random background images. He says that as if the content of the image being a random hallway or grocery aisle suddenly voids the copyright behind the image. When, in fact, all of those images have copyrights attached to them. It just depends on what the copyright holder wants to allow regarding their usage. Ben allows sharing for any purposes for his older images, but someone else might not allow sharing in any form for their images. There are plenty of people out there who only want their images to show up on their website or flickr account, and that's their right to limit!

SCP-173 - SCP Foundation
The SCP Foundation’s ‘top-secret’ archives, declassified for your enjoyment.

It's even happened in the past with creepypasta! Remember SCP-173? The original image that was posted with -173 on 4Chan was not free to use. But they got away with it for a few years until the copyright holder found out about it. Luckily, the copyright owner made a deal with the SCP Wiki to allow it to be used on the wiki, with attribution. But the owner could have easily demanded that it be taken down.

It all comes down to content creators needing to double and triple-check the copyright and licenses for the media that they use. Sure, it's just an image of a hallway that someone posted to Facebook, but do you know that the copyright holder wants the image to show up in a YouTube video? A lot of creators get away with copyright violations that just aren't caught by the copyright holder, but that doesn't mean that it's okay to do.

What should you do if you find a cool image you want to use? Figure out who created the image and see if they already allow for it to be used for the purposes that you want to use it for. If they don't, you can still reach out to them and see if you can make a deal with them to use it. Maybe they just want attribution or a fee to use it. But most importantly, if you can't figure out who owns the image (or you aren't given permission to use it), just don't use it! You might be able to use it and skirt detection, but it could easily end with a copyright claim against you.

Copyright basics
A copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of “original works of authorship” fixed in any tangible medium of expression. Learn more about the basics of copyrights.

Read more about how US copyright works!