Stealing billions of views with others' work

Escalating problem of freebooting costing content creators both exposure and money


If you have ever watched a video on Facebook or YouTube that was put up without the owner's consent, you would be well acquainted with the practice of freebooting.

This act of stealing is every content creator's nightmare. It is also a perennial problem that seems to be escalating.

Ripped videos, or re-uploads of content from other sources, make up about 70 per cent of the most popular Facebook videos, according to a recent report published by analytics platform Tubular Labs and advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather.

To put this in perspective, Facebook announced earlier this month that its videos now reach eight billion views a day.

So, who freeboots, and why?

Content generator Casey Neistat and a friend uploaded a video titled Aladdin Magic Carpet Prank (above) under their YouTube channel PrankvsPrank. Although the YouTube video got more than 11 million views, Mr Neistat said he lost more than 20 million views to freebooting on Facebook. PHOTO: PRANKVSPRANK/YOUTUBE

One well-known offender is Fast And Furious star Tyrese Gibson, who has 28 million followers on his page. A video he posted last year shows a young boy jumping around in a yellow cartoon costume before comically falling flat on his face. It bears a watermark from television network ABC's America's Funniest Home Videos.

"The best Halloween costume ever!!" the blurb reads. The link which follows, however, leads to Gibson's music album on iTunes.



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    Taylor Swift fans were thrilled when the pop star performed at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last weekend. Part of her performance was brilliantly captured on an embeddable Twitter video.


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Gibson's ripped Facebook video had close to 90 million views. The original video, found on YouTube, had 670,000 views.

In Gibson's case, amassing followers through viral videos gives him a bigger platform to push his own products.

A large following also gives the page owner leverage when it comes to paid product placements, which can easily rake in thousands.

This problem is not confined overseas.

Several local alternative news sites have also taken to uploading on Facebook videos they do not own, without permission, in an effort to grow their own reach. One possible explanation for this is that these sites are eventually hoping to profit from their online popularity.

"A whole group of people have built their online presence around stealing other people's work. This is really bad for independent creators. Contrary to popular belief, stolen content gives creators close to no exposure at all," says Munich-based YouTube channel Kurzgesagt.

Mr Casey Neistat is a content generator who has decided to speak up. He and a friend recently uploaded a two-minute video titled Aladdin Magic Carpet Prank under their YouTube channel PrankvsPrank, where they "rode" a magic carpet through the streets of  New York.

The world of Twitter was reeling after the terror attacks in Paris on Friday night. PHOTO: TWITTER/ STARPULSE

Part of Taylor Swift's show in Singapore last weekend was brilliantly captured on an embeddable Twitter video. PHOTO: TWITTER/ TAYLOR SWIFT

Although the YouTube video has garnered more than 11 million views, which would earn them a tidy sum from ads served to viewers, Mr Neistat told Adweek that he lost more than 20 million views to freebooting on Facebook.

He also complained that the taking-down process was arduous.

"This is, in every sense, a job, and each video is an investment wherein success - viewership - we will see a return," he said.

To be fair, it is not as if Facebook is standing idly by.

It said recently that it "wants creators to get credit for the videos that they own", and that it is working to improve its audio fingerprinting technology to prevent unauthorised videos from being uploaded, among other initiatives.

But, in the meantime, netizens can also do their part.

They can learn to identify stolen videos, for a start.

One dead giveaway is a watermark. Another sign is if the video is too slick and incongruent to be made by the page it is posted from.

From there, they can post a link to the original video in the comments box. Or better yet, unlike the offending page altogether.


It is no secret that many social media users are addicted to hashtags. Serial abusers routinely post updates that have 20 or more hashtags, a trait that is universally accepted as unattractive.

But how useful are these tags? Social media analytics firm Locowise looked hard at three months of data from Instagram and Twitter, and broke it down to see if they made a difference.

Here are the results: In terms of engagement, Instagram posts with three hashtags scored highest, followed by posts which had zero tags. Unsurprisingly, photos with 16 to 20 hashtags had the lowest engagement rate.

As for Twitter, Locowise viewed 600,000 tweets and found that those without hashtags outperformed those with hashtags.

One hashtag seems to be all a person should include in a tweet, as the engagement rate falls as more tags are added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2015, with the headline 'What'sTrending Stealing billions of views with others' work'. Print Edition | Subscribe