A few months back a new YouTube algorithm started suggesting me surprisingly accurate video recommendations. I’d watch The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and watched it on the official YouTube account. But then, all of a sudden, I’d get recommendations to watch The Daily Show full episodes, from accounts with random names, like “Maureen”. They were cropped, too. In short — these are pirated videos, appearing ahead of official releases, stealing advertising dollars and my attention away from the “real thing”. Of course I’d watch them — they are “good enough”, and they appear earlier. YouTube knows it too, so I’d get push notifications when new episode would be up — even if I don’t follow the channel! The algorithm became so good, Google would recommend me pirated content I want to see from channels I didn’t know exist.
And that’s the problem. For YouTube and Google, money they get from hosting pirated content is as good as any.
Of course same goes for Facebook—no wonder Facebook started their video service with stealing (or allowing to steal) millions of video clips, lifting them directly from YouTube, and thus either resorting to direct piracy or defending it with it’s might. Same, of course, goes to Instagram—which not only allows pirated content, but actively encourages it, while making enforcement of copyright and rights a painstaking matter. No wonder that it gives rise to ridiculous thieves like Richard Prince.
But the fact is, the giants are doing so because that’s the only way they can grow big: allow all content to get in, and make removing or policing content as hard as possible. In such a caged environment, thieves and corporations are profiting at the expense of everybody else—including us, consumers. I guess by sipping off advertising dollars from legitimate channels, it forces companies and artists alike to rethink their publishing strategies.
When I was building a company, we focused on strongly enforcing copyright and elevating the rights of photographers. What happened is that we would delete or discourage a lot of content—it’s much easier for users to collect someone else material than to create their own (consumption vs creation, despite being democratized with smartphones, is still largely at a 100 to 1 ratio). And by doing so, we weren’t able to catch to the levels of large companies, who allow any content, encouraging stealing, remixing, republishing, and so on.
In fact, it seems that it is absolutely impossible to build a big robust social media company without stealing. So if you want to take on the “big guys”, be a pirate, and steal, just like they do.
Evgeny Tchebotarev is a founder of 12-million-photographers-strong community500px, backed by Andreessen Horowitz; and currently helps other companies unlock 10x potential. He is usually based in Taipei, Taiwan.