Freeloaders boot up followers while original creators suffer

Ideas

Freeloaders boot up followers while original creators suffer

With little copyright protection for digital content producers, the space has become a free-for-all

Consumer journalist
Matt Pentz, who films the moves of amateur township soccer players, found a Facebook page in France had amassed 16-million views from one of his videos.
OFFSIDE Matt Pentz, who films the moves of amateur township soccer players, found a Facebook page in France had amassed 16-million views from one of his videos.
Image: Bloomberg

“Steal now and answer questions later — that’s how it goes.

“The entire landscape of digital content and copyright is a wild Wild West situation and it needs to be restructured so original creators have more protection.”

Matt Pentz speaks from bitter personal experience. For the past seven years, his side hustle has been “Diski Domain” — videoing the slick moves of amateur township soccer players, editing the best clips and uploading them to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

“It didn’t take long to see my videos appearing on other pages,” he says.

“My content soon reached all corners of the globe and unfortunately with viral videos the chances of your content being freebooted increase dramatically.

“The number of copyright takedowns I’ve processed is mind-boggling.”

A Facebook page in France once amassed 16-million views from one of Pentz’s videos.

“I was gutted, as 16-million views on my page could have turned a hobby into a career,” he says.

Facebook did disable access to his content to “resolve your intellectual property issue”.

“I can’t be bothered when a video of mine gets stolen and amasses a few hundred views,” Pentz says. “But it becomes a problem when it appears on platforms that are monetisable and the view count ramps up to millions.”

This year he stumbled upon an account with 30,000 followers that was having a field day with his YouTube content on TikTok.

“I processed three or four takedown requests and subsequently TikTok obliged and terminated the infringing account.”

The reality is that the average consumer doesn’t stop to question whether what they’re watching is an original piece or not.

“They register a view and move on to the next tweet/post/video,” Pentz says, and that’s why original creators, especially those who create great content, have probably all been affected by copyright infringement.

But corporates really should know better.

On November 16, Asanda Sizani, former magazine editor and creator of Black Editors, a platform focused on black excellence in South African media, posted an image of an FNB promo featuring an image of a black woman.

Another commentator said FNB had done something similar to him three years ago. When I followed up with him, he said he’d done an Instagram influencer post for the bank and some time later the bank had used his image in one of its emailed newsletters, without his permission.

“Dear First National Bank,” she tweeted, “I produced this image in 2018. I would like to know how you accessed the image and how it is currently on the FNB app. My DMs are open.”

Naturally, I was very interested in that back story, but both parties are being tight-lipped.

FNB told me it had reached an “amicable way forward” on the matter and Sizani politely told me she wasn’t ready to talk about the issue. Yet.

The comments on social media revealed how little most people know about the legalities of such things. “Johanna” tweeted: “If the picture is on social media without patent or copyright, you lost. They don’t owe you anything ... as a creative you should know better.”

Not so, says Lee Swales, consultant attorney with Thomson Wilks Inc of La Lucia, about intellectual property rights.

Copyright automatically subsists on an original photograph.

“You or me or FNB can’t just use that image, because (Sizani) owns it.

“Not unless she assigned it to the bank at some point.”

The bank’s reaction, brief as it was, suggests that wasn’t the case.

Another commentator said FNB had done something similar to him three years ago. When I followed up with him, he said he’d done an Instagram influencer post for the bank and some time later the bank had used his image in one of its emailed newsletters, without his permission.

“But they did pay me when I complained,” he said.

According to Pentz, YouTube used to be the epicentre of stolen content. “But in recent years they’ve given creators access to Content ID,” he says.

“This tool automatically scans the entire YouTube database and notifies you on copyright matches when someone has uploaded content you created.”

Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have yet to follow suit.

“So you either, by some luck, stumble upon your video or one of your fans tells you they saw your video on a different account.”

Thousands of accounts are building enormous followings with not a single piece of original content on their pages. Those pages can grow such massive audiences that they’re contacted by brands and/or other small accounts to do shout-outs or paid promotion.
Matt Pentz

Pentz has come to the point where he’s considering putting a large watermark across his videos.

“This is the only way to truly protect yourself, as the freebooters know how to pan and crop out watermarks near the bottom edge of a video.”

Snapchat is now increasing the chances of compelling videos being stolen as it is paying people for videos without determining whether the content loaded is original or not.

“Thousands of accounts are building enormous followings with not a single piece of original content on their pages. Those pages can grow such massive audiences that they’re contacted by brands and/or other small accounts to do shout-outs or paid promotion,” Pentz says.

“So they’re making money off stolen content.”

Every platform should have a page or section allowing people to submit copyright claims, he says.

For example, Twitter has this: https://help.twitter.com/en/forms/ipi/dmca

And here is Facebook’s: https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/1758255661104383

“Instagram and TikTok allow you to report copyright infringements from within the app, but you then need to prove you’re the owner or creator.

“But sometimes you receive a response only days later, and each minute that passes is more engagement for the freebooters.”

And when established brands “steal” images for their campaigns, it highlights just how big this freebooting problem has become.

The challenge is getting people to understand that content doesn’t belong to anyone and everyone once it has been uploaded. I foresee a lot more in-your-face watermarks on videos and photos posted online.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer

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