YouTube is an American video-sharing platform that allows users to upload, view, rate, share, add to playlist, report, and comment on videos and subscribe to other users. The platform has become a popular destination for content creators like vloggers, chefs, and artists to upload their motion content as a brand. According to Burgees & Greens (2018), “participatory culture” is YouTube’s core business. It offers a free platform for users to create and upload their content, while YouTube monetizes these contents with advertising intervals based on users’ information and preference. McDowell & Soha (2016) has regarded this trading as a basic bargain that innovated in personally customized advertising and gained YouTube the power of monetization.
What is monetization and how does it work?
The term monetization might be familiar amongst YouTube consumers. Simplistically, it means that a video on the platform can yearn profit by allowing advertisement intervals or receiving sponsorships for promotion. However, based on my observation, not every user on YouTube has their videos monetized. Thus, I have decided to dig deeper into the world of YouTube to understand more about these terms and conditions as well as the eligibility to have one’s videos monetized.
In order to have your video monetized, one’s account must participate in YouTube’s Partner Program. The eligibilities are as follows:
· Follow all the YouTube Partner Program policies.
· Live in a country/region where the YouTube Partner Program is available.
· Have more than 4,000 public watch hours in the last 12 months.
· Have more than 1,000 subscribers.
After an account has enlisted a YouTube’s Partner Program, it can run ads throughout videos or livestreams. The average charge is 18 cents per view. If 10% of its 1000 viewers watched the ad, the person will make $18. Eventually, this results in the structure that the more views a video has, the more money the creator makes. However, this profit depends greatly on whether the video’s content meets up with “advertiser-friendly content guidelines” (which is a set of rules on top of the Community Guidelines that tell video producers whether the advertisers want to be seen with the video’s content), or how the ads are run throughout the video and how the viewers interact with those ads. Thus, this makes YouTube an unreliable source of income for most video producers.
Lots of producers look for other alternatives, such as finding outside sponsorships for product promoting purposes. Thus, there are occasions when YouTube content creators disclaim the content being sponsored while sharing their favorite products.
For more information on how brands reach out to YouTube video producers, please watch one of Safiya Nygaard’s YouTube video bellow to know her experience with brand sponsorship or promotion (00:00–2:00).
YouTube predominantly contains “participatory culture” (2018, Burgees & Greens), which means all users can compose and publish contents of their own and contribute to growth and maintenance of certain cultures in the platform. YouTube Copyright Terms and Conditions are written to protect those unique contents from being “virtually plagiarized”. Following that, “the Content ID was designed and implemented in response to increasing pressure from media corporations concerned about the unauthorized sharing and broadcast of their copyrighted media content” (2016, McDowell & Soha).
This may seem logical at first, but there are loopholes in every nooks and cranny of the terms that policy issuers can overlook or utilize to make profit. I am talking about a specific case of the Harlem Shake song that happened to go viral after a video of a person thrusting his pelvis in the background. According to the Guardian, the song is not an original track. It is a compilation of other tracks that were composed by other artists. Baauer gathered these original contents from a music platform called SoundCloud (McDowell & Soha, 2016) to create The Harlem Shake and trademarked the song when he published it on YouTube via Content ID. The Guardian explained this simply means that the user had the power to either ban all videos with content infringement or take a percentage out of ad revenues from all those videos.
Although YouTube’s Copyright Terms and Conditions and its partnership Program may seem great in terms of protecting original products and giving “credits” to the producers, these terms and conditions are also the money leverage for YouTube that help them get away with hosting copyright materials while monetizing videos from its users. In August 2012, Baauer released the remix Harlem Shake and Baauer claimed copyright for the song on YouTube for monetization. As Business Insider reports, the Harlem Shake artist benefits every time a user posts their version of Harlem Shake meme on YouTube, making it sound like an endearing favor while, in fact, the user is being exploited in the name of entertainment and #trends.
The problematic side of the phenomena unwinds as the Harlem Shake song become popular for recreational purposes. The global popularity of Harlem Shake meme gave Baauer and his record label, Mad Decent, the power to control the monetization of all the meme containing the song (McDowell & Soha 2016). Although the whole content of the meme rightfully belongs to the video producers, a part of the content contains the audio that belong to Baauer or Mad Decent, which put them in power of controlling over the whole content. This raised a question in my head: Shouldn’t the content producers have a fair share or control over the meme since they also put the work into the meme?
This leaves readers wondering how something like this can happen to YouTube’s users as YouTube has always been known to be the fair and exclusive business platform for all from amateurs to professionals. However, according to McDowell & Soha (2016), YouTube dominate its platform by taking advantage of connections to record labels and the copyright law itself:
YouTube achieved this market dominance in no small part through taking advantage of copyright law that allowed for YouTube to adopt new business models “based on collaboration and revenue-sharing with creators and rights owners, only now from a completely different negotiation (or one may say, coercive) position,” as not only does YouTube hold a “significant portion of audience attention” but is also “partially shielded from legal liability.
In order to run ad revenues on YouTube, people must meet up with certain criteria to become eligible for getting paid. This requires a lot of hard work and gray areas from a person to prove to YouTube that they are eligible to hop from an “unpaid intern” to a qualified producer receiving commission per view. And when they do, YouTube still has the right to take control over whether one’s video is suitable for monetization. To the Harlem Shake case specifically, the Content ID supported Baauer to yield profit out of others’ videos without giving them any compensation whatsoever:
Content ID allowed Mad Decent to harness millions of hours of creative free labor. The millions of hours of creative labor that went into producing the tens of thousands of Harlem Shake meme videos were a creative undertaking the scale of which not even the largest record companies could muster (McDowell & Soha, 2016).
This phenomenon raises a concern over labor exploitation and how dominant entertainment platform takes over the market and take advantage of others’ creativity without any consequences. When someone mentions labor exploitation, we usually think of physical labor and neglect intellectual labor. Ironically, YouTube’s copyright terms and conditions are written to protect users’ rights and benefit over their content while also depriving users from the rights they had. Although YouTube’s Content ID program allow a content to have multiple rights holders, there is always someone left out from these types of remix where the artist composed a new sound wave from an orginial track; and in this case, Baauer left out Hector el “Father” Delgado, the artist whose song Baauer recycled to create the Harlem Shake remix. The Guardian reported another case regarding unclaimed credits, “When asked where the sample came from, Baauer failed to mention the crew in the AMA, and these groups are unlikely to receive significant benefits from Harlem Shake popularity.”
It appears as if YouTube only protects parties that sign a contract with them, which turns this into a larger card deck of the big entertainment companies. Big corporations team up together to earn more profits and protect one another for the sake of this profit. This leaves smaller/independent content creators out of the pie, promoting inequality and labor exploitation. To better protect ourselves from this creative way of labor exploitation, we must educate ourselves the application and significance of these laws within the platform. Because YouTube is a platform regulates by the participatory culture, a person with the right understanding can make a difference. There is no harm in participating in a trend and spreading a meme, but it is also beneficial and crucial to understand how large corporations like YouTube collaborate with other companies to dominate the market and gain power over others’ products. “While Content ID does not seem to immediately hinder “amateur” content production, the underlying problem of giving exclusive control to authors and rights holders over popular cultural expression and content that they did not create (and whose exposure they already benefit from) further leverages the genuine production of social capital into a system of commercial exploitation.” — McDowell & Soha (2016)
Burgess, J., & Green, J. (2018). YouTube online video and participatory culture. Cambridge: Polity
Soha, M., & McDowell, Z. J. (2016). Monetizing a Meme: YouTube, Content ID, and the Harlem Shake. Social Media Society, 2(1), 12. doi: 10.1177/2056305115623801
How Your Harlem Shake Video make Money for Artists — Business Insider