I’m in favor of Article 13

There’s a very neat trick when it comes to obscuring discourse: conflating unrelated-yet-confusingly-similar issues to make them seem bigger than they really are, and to steal support from otherwise-legitimate causes.

This is an ongoing example (link):


Hillary Clinton is facing backlash for arguing that European leaders should try to assuage the concerns of a growing right-wing populism across the continent by refusing to offer “refuge and support” to migrants.


… politicians expressed shock and concern with Clinton’s comments, which some said appeared to contradict her 2016 campaign position on welcoming immigrants and refugees.

Eliza Relman, Business Insider US

Immigrants and refugees.

There’s a world of difference between the two. Personally, I’m in favor of more open borders and a greater flow of immigrants: people who explicitly and voluntarily decide how and where they want to live, and are prepared to put in the work to contribute positively and assimilate into the culture are all right in my book.

Refugees are very different. They’re not moving by choice, but by necessity. Being coerced out of the land they chose to live in means they’ll hang on to their culture and traditions (as they should, by their own volition).

When this issue is reported though, immigrants and refugees are routinely conflated, to the point where they’re treated as synonyms for eachother – when they clearly are not. So now, even though I completely support as much voluntary, legal immigration as countries can bear, I’m also expected to support the unmitigated flow of refugees to systems that cannot integrate them at all.

I feel the exact same thing happening with this Article 13 issue.

At its core, the EU leans in favor of human rights. The regulations handed down are more often for the protection of citizens than not – GDPR being a stellar recent example.

Article 13 protects rightsholders by preventing unauthorized use of their work. The initial draft of the bill proposed some truly terrible mitigations (requiring automated content filtering on all uploads to catch violations), but the final bill has watered that down quite a lot.

When Article 13 is reported on though, it’s usually with a message like this:


the EU’s new copyright directive have stoked fears that memes will effectively be banned


platforms will have to pay a fee to share a link to a news article and have to start filtering and removing memes.


they will arbitrarily remove content based on their terms and conditions. As a result, many creators will see their content get blocked


Only platforms with deep pockets will be able to comply with the Article 13 requirements

It’s all horseshit, reasoned from a faulty premise that legitimizes theft under the banner of “user-generated content”. The internet that anti-Article 13 activists are fighting to protect was largely built on wide-scale infringement, with the inability to enforce existing laws taken as tacit permission to break them all.

But every wild west is eventually tamed, and the internet is long overdue for this. The truth (especially in Facebook and YouTube’s case) is that copyright-infringed content has been the biggest driver of their success. While they’ll fight Article 13 and sell it as the platforms “standing up for the creators” (and we’ll come back to “creators”), in reality they desperately need the freely-generated content to keep flowing – that’s all that keeps eyeballs on the site, and ad dollars flowing.

As platforms, between DMCA, Fair Use and Safe Harbor, they effectively have a license to print money (or in this case, monetizable attention). They can provide platforms that permit millions of people to violate copyright, then simply take their time to remove infringing content, while never having to compensate the victim.

While they claim to be acting in the best interests of “creators”, they’ve managed to come up with a very narrow, self-serving definition of “creator”: anyone who uploads anything. Truly independent creators are suffering the most under the current regime, illustrated beautifully by Kurzgesagt:

It’s that “immigrants and refugees” trickery all over again: conflating the independent artists who put their backs into creating original content, with the vampires who cut and re-share it without attribution (or fair compensation) to build their own profiles. To the platforms, these are both considered “creators”, which is why this statement from YouTube’s CEO should come as no surprise:


Article 13 as written threatens to shut down the ability of millions of people — from creators like you to everyday users — to upload content to platforms like YouTube. And it threatens to block users in the EU from viewing content that is already live on the channels of creators everywhere. This includes YouTube’s incredible video library of educational content, such as language classes, physics tutorials and other how-to’s.

Susan Wojcicki

(I wonder if Susan’s “educational content” includes these horror shows aimed at young children.)

There’s a whole lot of very subtle trickery in that paragraph. For one, and this is probably the most important point in the whole debacle:

People are rightsholders too.

Most of the criticism about Article 13 sets up this dystopian scenario where a few large companies (Disney, FOX, etc) will end up being the only ones who can publish anything, since Article 13 protects copyright and copyright is evil.

Except, it’s not. In most common-law countries, copyright is actually very simple: You make it, you own it. And if you own it, you should have some say in how it gets used – including permitting people to use your stuff for free, which is what Creative Commons is all about.

Copyright is only evil in a world where you can’t create new things, and the reality here is that a lot of this outrage is coming from people who have built businesses, careers and social standing off the work of others. They’re the ones with the most to lose if laws like Article 13 pass, which is why “copyright” is routinely cast as this benefit that only applies to large companies with expensive lawyers. 

Copyright is a thing we’ve had since 1886, ratified at the Berne Convention and adopted by pretty much every country on Earth. 

You could go (right now) and outline a story about a high school for wizards. Apply some creativity, take on a new angle, mix in your own experiences, draw from a large array of influences and produce something unique – and by default, you’ll have the copyright on it.

That’s creation. That’s what authorship is supposed to look like. Taking a three-second clip from a movie and dubbing a different voice over it is, at best, imitation.

But it’s that imitation that’s now being heralded as “creation”, defended by companies that desperately need large volumes of content to monetize but cannot (or will not) invest in producing it themselves.

Of course, there are more arguments against Article 13, for instance:

Only large companies will be able to afford compliance! Only big platforms like Facebook and YouTube could possibly do this!

Garbage. Setting up your own website comes with a cost of $free, and you have full control over what goes up on there. The only reason these large companies are the “only ones who can afford compliance” is that their business model depends on large-scale, unmonitored, unchecked user-generated content that can be monetized – with bonus points for presenting all of that as a defense of free speech.

This will kill creativity! Nobody will be able to make anything new! Copyrights prevent people from experimenting!

More garbage. The thing about copyright (other than it being a basic human right, globally enforced and freely available) is that the rightsholder can do whatever they want with the rights, including making it available for adaptation.

It’s as if everyone’s taken crazy pills and forgotten that CC-BY-SA exists.

Even in a world where that experimentation/remixing/adaptation is universally good for business, rightsholders (everyone from Disney to neighbour Dorothy) should have some say over how their work is used. If they decide to prevent remixes, that’s their business. Everyone that takes a more relaxed approach will benefit, and the free market will sort itself out.

Ultimately, that’s why I’m in favor of legislation that tries to protect rightsholders from unauthorized use of their work, while still giving them the option of making their work available for adaptation and re-use: Because people are rightsholders too.

The importance of publishing regularly

You know the difference between theory and practice, right? How you can know something in theory for years, but never actually apply it? I’m spectacularly guilty of that.

One of the many side-effects of modernized content publishing (under which I’m lumping radio, TV, video, podcasts and comics too) is the rate at which consumers now expect new content.

If you’re just getting started today, and you intend on building any kind of career, constant output really matters.

I’ve known this for years (and have ignored it for those same years), but if you’re planning on being a professional content creator in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-accelerated world, you need to create and share with some frequency.

By “professional” I mean: “earning a living doing this”. Not “professional” as in “the best possible output from the most skilled individuals”, or even “certified or qualified” – those barriers have long since been obliterated.

If your intention is to build a career on this, then quality is almost secondary to constant output. Especially if you have an inner critic that’s harping on at you about how bad your work is.

There’s an excellent example of this on YouTube. One of my favorite creators is a guy by the name of Bill Wurtz, who has a channel filled with short clips in his very unique style. A few months ago, he published a new video – The History Of The Entire World:

Excellent video, extremely information-dense, and enormously painstaking to create. That 19 minutes of footage took him over 11 months to produce (according to an interview he did later), and at many points during the project, he felt like dropping it completely – which I sympathize with!

It’s a solid creative achievement, and I’d always want to see more work like this make its way to the world.

But if you’re trying to build a career as a content creator, a schedule like that is a death sentence. As of today, the video has over 25 million views, which means it’s accumulated a flat average of around 470k views/day. And that’s already slowed down to a crawl:

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Public statistics from the YouTube video

Creators on YouTube can earn advertising revenue (with the possible exception of the recent adpocalypse that’s still evolving), and beyond that, popular creators often spin up secondary revenue streams – things like merchandise, club memberships, and Patreon pages.

But all of that starts with views (or reads, listens, downloads, whatever your metric is) – more is better, and consistency is better.

There’s another YouTuber that I’ve recently sort-of started watching – Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie. He started in April 2010, essentially just recording videos of himself playing games. In the 7+ years since then, SocialBlade reports that he’s uploaded over 3200 videos.

There are only 2555 days in 7 years, meaning that he’s uploaded an average of more than one video per day, every day, for over 7 years.

The man is a Swedish meme machine. I don’t know how he does it, but he does.

That consistency built him an audience, ended up landing him contracts and other opportunities, then turned into a solid (multi-million dollar) career. It took a knock when the Wall Street Journal went after him, but that’s a whole other story on its own. Right now, he’s sitting on 55 million subscribers – possibly 56 million before today is out. Not bad for a kid that used to sell hot dogs!

Fun fact: PewDiePie has 55 million subscribers and can drive upwards of a million views to a new video the day it comes out. The WSJ is the largest newspaper in the United States, with a circulation of only 2.4 million print copies, and 900k digital subscribers.

(No wonder they went after him!)

The videos themselves, if I’m honest, are not great – something that he acknowledges in a very funny and self-deprecating way. They’re mostly just him in front of a webcam, talking into a microphone and browsing the web. The comedic timing is excellent though, and the use of effects is hilariously cheesy.

The most recent uploads are usually around 10 minutes in length (partially to take advantage of YouTube’s advertising distribution algorithm), and probably take a few hours at most to record, edit, and upload. But he does it every single day, and has done it consistently for so long, that this is how the daily movements across his channel look today:

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Stats from SocialBlade.com

His back catalog of 3200+ videos cumulatively gains new views in the millions, every single day. And all of those views are potential ad revenue, new subscribers, or merchandise customers.

This principle applies everywhere in the modern content business. The more content you build up over time, and the more frequently you’re able to do it (even if it’s not your absolute best work on every single publish), the better off you’re going to be in terms of audience size, and the corresponding revenue opportunities.

Constant publishing creates an audience, and constant consumption creates opportunity.

There’ll always be space for the big, heavy, long-running creative projects in the world. Those are the ones that will go on to have enormous cultural impact – a great recent example being American Gods.

The book was originally published in 2001 (that’s sixteen years ago, in case you weren’t already feeling old). It’s getting a television series as of this year, and two ambitious claims have emerged: That this will be a series on the level of Game of Thrones, and that the content in the novel itself could keep the series going for several years without needing much modification.

 

American Gods took Gaiman several years to write. I think I read somewhere that it was (at least) 5 years. I can’t source that right now, but I could certainly believe that, given the scope of the work.

I’m convinced that American Gods will go on to have a huge cultural impact, win multiple awards (the book already won awards back in 2001), and inspire thousands of new creators.

But not all creative work has to be on the same scale, and there’s just as much place for the people who produce entertainment on a much more regular basis. Especially now that there are so many formats, the cost of entry is lower than its ever been, and you can probably find an audience for even the narrowest of niches.

It’s just down to overcoming your inner critic, and making a start!

Swinging a double-edged sword

It’s been an interesting few weeks in terms of freedom of speech, and what that means on the internet. On 31 August, YouTube made a small but significant change to its advertising policy – it set new guidelines for monetizeable content, and included rules specifically against offensive content.

In a lot of contexts, that’s pretty justifiable: It shouldn’t ever be the case that a system is put in place that rewards hateful and destructive speech. Under the previous system, ad revenue was pretty much a direct correlation to viewership, and controversy is a constant driver of viewership.

For example, it would be possible to create a YouTube channel that featured nothing but trolling and baiting other people, and not only would you get a response to that, you’d actually be rewarded for your efforts with ad revenue. That cannot possibly be a reasonable thing to reward – it directly fans the flames that make YouTube an unpleasant place to be.

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Trouble is, “offensive” is an extremely subjective and rapidly-moving target – nowhere more so in the US, with college campus politics and ludicrous entitlement driving a new generation of offenderati. A recent, glowing example of this was a Lyft passenger who berated the driver for being racist, simply because the driver had a Hawaiian bobblehead accessory in his car:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3763921/Woman-berates-Lyft-driver-racist-Hawaiian-bobblehead-doll-dash.html

That’s one element to consider. The second is how quickly instances like that are used to fuel internet mobs – groups of people with internet access and nothing better to do. They’ll gang up, post harassing messages on social media, try unearthing private information about their target, and generally try making their lives miserable.

If that Lyft driver in the article above was on social media, he would have been targeted with death threats, his information would have been made public, he’d probably be barraged with phone calls and texts for being “racist” – none of his fault, and all of it perpetrated by what I can only imagine is a mentally unstable woman.

That behavior – distasteful as it is – is a fantastic driver of “engagement” on these platforms. It drives eyeballs to videos, it drives comments (albeit bad), and it drives uploads – mainly rebuttals and rants. And YouTube is, in my opinion, justified in trying to protect themselves from that. Not only because advertisers will be insisting on it, but also just because it’s the decent, human thing to do.

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But because everyone’s so easily offended, and because people can be rallied up into attack mobs, there’s a very real downside: The systems by which YouTube enforces this policy are largely automated, and there’s basically no preemptive defense. If you say the wrong thing on YouTube, or you upset a group of people (maybe no more than 50 people, even), they can rally against you and flag all your videos for inappropriate content. And after a certain point, the system simply starts demonetizing your videos.

That’s a bit of a slap in the face to the people that work on producing great content for YouTube. It takes a lot of effort to build a channel and an audience, and the ad revenue from that was what made it viable for a lot of content creators to keep doing that. There’s a large overlap between the people that are passionate about creating YouTube content, and the people that believe strongly in the views they’re sharing.

And since we’re now living in a world where simply existing is offensive to some people, it’ll become harder and harder for those content creators to justify spending so much time and effort producing content for YouTube (which already takes 45% of all ad revenue), when it’s so easy for someone to get a hate mob together and torpedo your earnings.

YouTube is by far the largest platform for community-driven speech in the world, and they’ve swung a bit of a double-edged sword here. They’ll likely end up with a profitable network, but at the cost of burning down a vital square for public debate.

Meaning that the final holdout just bit the dust. Facebook has been tailoring their algorithms for years, designed to put profitable content in front of you. Twitter’s losing the battle for their independence, and will have to start making larger compromises pretty soon if they want to remain relevant. And now YouTube has thrown their independent content producers to the wolves.

Kinda makes you long for MySpace a bit.