Just days ago, online tech news and review publication The Verge found itself embroiled in a fiasco over YouTube copyright strikes issued against several tech YouTubers. What followed was widespread furore in the tech community against The Verge’s perceived mishandling of the issue, with the Editor-in-Chief Nilay Patel lashing out against naysayers in a series of heated tweets.
How did it begin?
The Verge had published a YouTube video accompanying an article on a $2,000 PC build (entitled “How to build a custom PC for gaming, editing or coding.”). Explicitly labelled a how-to, the video featuring Verge reporter Stefan Etienne contained several obvious mistakes – several of them elementary lapses that could produce fatal results should novices follow its instructions verbatim.
YouTube channels specialising in PC building were quick to respond. The most common were response-style critique videos that interspersed the original video with responses and commentary highlighting the ludicrous nature of the instructional video.
Amongst the many infractions, Etienne had not installed the memory into the correct slots that enabled dual channel memory; the power supply unit was also oriented wrongly, with the cooling fans pressed up against the walls of the case risking overheating; too much thermal paste was applied haphazardly on the CPU, although the CPU cooler had already come with thermal paste pre-applied.
And it didn’t stop there – Etienne was also found by several prominent figures in the tech scene to have supplied unreliable information, along with other questionable details. He informed viewers that the power supply unit has to be mounted on insulating pads so that it does not “short-circuit” and “come into contact with the rest of the system” – which is absurd since the PSU is self-contained, and the “pads” are in actual fact there to isolate the vibrations from the unit.
He can also be seen to be wearing an anti-static bracelet without attaching it to a ground connector. Some eagle-eyed viewers also spotted tiny lapses – Etienne had apparently used the wrong screws in the installation, and had left out an important thumbscrew which can be seen in the final image.
It all took a turn for the worst when The Verge bit back. Patel, in a forum post on The Verge, alleged that the reaction videos used “90 percent of the footage without any edits”, and “featured what our legal team felt was a pretty racist character”, which “was not fair use”.
In addition, The Verge disabled likes, dislikes and comments on the poorly-received video, which only served to exacerbate sentiments on the ground. They had also gone to the extent of deleting comments on its other videos as soon as viewers began to post negative remarks on the channel’s other videos.
The @verge recent YT videos are now being bombarded w/ dislikes & disapproving comments while their channel hemorrhages hundreds of subs a day. I can't help but think there's a better way to make companies think twice before abusing DMCA & threatening the livelihoods of creators
— Kyle (@bitwitkyle) February 16, 2019
It got worse when Nilay Patel signalled the publications unrepentant stance, dismissing Gamers Nexus’ generous offer to fly and house him and to film an interview with him with the dismissive statement “go make something positive for the world”.
Nah, I’ve said all I’m going to say. Ask me for comment before you make a video next time. Go make something positive for the world.
— nilay patel (@reckless) February 15, 2019
The Verge’s Lawyers Go Nuts
According to figures in the editorial team at The Verge, its lawyers found such reaction videos to be in violation of its intellectual property rights, and took action to ask YouTube to remove two of such videos. Each of these takedowns were issued with a “copyright strike” – three of which accumulated within a 90-day period would be sufficient to get a YouTuber’s account permanently banned.
The website defends the actions of its lawyers, stating that these response videos had reproduced the vast majority of its original video. However, its Editor-in-Chief, along with prominent figures, maintain that this action was taken independently of its editorial team, and were informed about it only after the fact.
He also alleges that The Verge’s YouTube channel has been the result of a coordinated attack, which included death threats like this one, that, being ambiguously worded, could very well refer to The Verge’s YouTube channel “staying alive”.
This victim posturing only served to fan the flames amongst the online community, which had already taken sides against the tech website.
For Patel, Kyle Hansen of Bitwit fame attracted Patel’s specific ire.
After posting the above video intended to humorously critique The Verge’s How-To video, Kyle had received a “copyright strike”, and also had the video taken offline. Patel alleges that Hansen’s reaction video was found by their legal team to be “pretty racist” in nature, which was a central reason why the website had targetted his video (amongst others) for takedown. Hansen had referred to Etienne as “Steve Urkel”, had mocked his shirt and “Engrish”.
The Online Community Strikes Back
Seeing their favourite YouTubers receiving a slap on the wrist for no apparent reason, many viewers took to assaulting The Verge’s YouTube channel, filling them with dislikes and negative comments.
The channel trailer on The Verge’s YouTube channel, which stars Nilay Patel, was a particular subject of this vigilante action, attracting a horde of angry viewers exacting revenge on Patel and the channel.
Some “death threats” claimed to be received by Patel and people associated with him weren’t trivial, but there still remains to be seen if any efforts to coordinate this wave of vigilantism had been made by Hansen, any other YouTuber, or any other public figure.
I think Nilay has lost his mind. Not only did The Verge put the spotlight back on their terrible video, but he is now in a public food fight with YouTube creators and millions of their followers. What is the upside for Nilay or The Verge?
— DraconFlux (@DraconFlux) February 16, 2019
That’s not the first time Patel had landed in the public eye – neither was it the first time it was in a negative light. He had critiqued the milanese band on the original Apple Watch, which he claimed made him feel “ridiculous”. Former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée, responded in a blog post poking fun at the spiky bracelet Patel sported on his other wrist.
Unsurprisingly, Patel bit back, enraged – race was on the cards, yet again. He tweeted “Old White Men Critiquing My Spiky Bracelet is juuuuuust my favorite”.
It is not uncommon for YouTube videos (many monetised ones, even) to use large parts of movies and other intellectual property material. Videos by Cinema Sins and Honest Trailers are comprised almost completely of said copyright material, and justified under Fair Use due to their nature as videos that comment, critique and parody other material.
Of course, videos that utilise copyrighted material without accompanying comment, critique or parody would otherwise fail the Fair Use argument.
Apparently, it hadn’t only been The Verge cracking down on copyright claims. Several other YouTubers had complained about Linus Tech Tips issuing copyright claims (and strikes). Linus suspects that YouTube’s changes to the content ID system had sparked an increase in content ID claims.