Why I’m Giving up on Creative Commons on YouTube

CC HeartI’ve been a long-time supporter of Creative Commons content licensing, which facilitates the proliferation of art and culture through sharing. On Flickr, I license the majority of my photos CC BY-NC-SA. It’s a good implementation and I’m happy to support people using my stuff non-commercially as I have other artists’ works.

Not so on YouTube. I recently came across this opportunistic individual who took my drone video of Burning Man 2013 and reposted it in its entirety to YouTube under the inaccurate and misleading title “Drone’s Eye View of Burning Man 2014.” A few issues here.

1. It’s not a video from 2014. This guy just reposted my 2013 video using a very SEO friendly title, as apparently a lot of people are searching for Burning Man 2014 drone videos. Google is happy to send people his way.

2. He’s monetized my video, I have not. I explicitly chose not to monetize the video as I was abiding by Burning Man’s noncommercial ethos. At almost 100k views, this guy is surely profiting.

3. There’s not much I can do about it.

The reason I can’t do anything about is I originally licensed my video CC BY, YouTube’s only Creative Commons license option.  CC BY means that a user can do whatever they want with it, just as long as they give proper attribution to the creator (more on that later).  Commercial use is allowed, which YouTube makes very easy by letting the resulting video be monetized with ads. Combine that with an SEO friendly, yet inaccurate and misleading title, and PROFIT!

YT Licenses

I never expected that someone would repost the video in its entirety and monetize tons of views from it, or that YouTube would make this so easy.

The intention of CC licenses, as I’ve always believed, is to grease the wheels of culture. To create a repository of creative work that can be drawn upon to make new creative works. There are a handful of different Creative Commons license options that allow a creator to decide how they wish their works to be used. I generally go with CC BY-NC-SA which stands for “By Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike.” By using this license I’m stating that you are welcome to use my works non-commercially in your own work as long as you properly attribute it to me and share the resulting work in the same manner. If you want to use my works commercially, you are welcome to contact me and see if I’m open to a deal. Otherwise, there is no need to get my permission as long as you adhere to these terms.

The real issue is YouTube’s remix tool is horribly broken. Of the 68 videos that users have “remixed” from my video, 36 are wholesale reposts of my entire video (many of which are monetized with ads). 28 are by accounts that have since been deleted by YouTube for various TOS violations and a whopping THREE are actual original new works in which a sample of my video appears.

YouTube Videos Using This Content

How YouTube fulfills CC’s attribution requirement is also broken. CC BY license stipulates, “If supplied, you must provide the name of the creator and attribution parties, a copyright notice, a license notice, a disclaimer notice, and a link to the material.”  To find this info on YouTube, you must go a video’s landing page and first click the “SHOW MORE” text in the description below the video. Here the Creative Commons Attribution license with link is clearly displayed. Below this, there’s a “View attributions” link which needs to be clicked to discover the original author’s credit and source video link. There’s no way the average YouTube user is going to go through these steps to learn what they are viewing was partially or wholly created by someone else. 


2nd click

It’s really unfortunate that YouTube doesn’t offer different flavors of CC licenses like Flickr has been doing for years. Had BY NC been an option, monetization could be prevented. I guess it’s not in YouTube’s interest to offer video hosting for videos that can never be monetized.

As long as YouTube’s CC implementation is broken, I will not participate in it. I’ve rolled back the CC licenses on 35 of my videos to YouTube’s Standard license. Not ideal, but at least I have some recourse if someone now tries to profit from my videos.

It’s a real bummer as Creative Commons is a great resource for source material for making art and furthering remix culture. I really hope YouTube cares enough to get it right.

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