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'Freebooters' Are Stealing Videos from YouTube and Reposting Them to Facebook

Will 30 million views on stolen videos fly when Facebook has to start paying out ad revenues?
Screencap: Motherboard

If Facebook is serious about starting to pay people who upload videos to the site, it has to deal with its biggest problem: finding and taking down the pages that have shamelessly ripped videos for popularity.

If you're a regular Facebook user, you probably know what I'm talking about. The pages have a fairly similar taxonomy: "Funniest and Craziest Videos." "Best Vines." The titles are almost always in the superlative and rarely ever list the names of the people who run them.


Chances are, if you like those pages, you're not particularly interested in traipsing through multiple social feeds to find the "Best" cat video, and probably even less interested in knowing who made it. All you need is that quick hit and some nameless figure to share it with you.

That's the sort of lowest denominator curator-to-audience relationship that brought Josh Ostrovsky, aka the Fat Jew, to the mainstream, and a very similar thing is happening with these Facebook pages, albeit without the greasy cult of personality attached to it.

"It feels a bit terrible to miss out on the revenue that I would have gotten if my YouTube video would have been posted instead"

And while Facebook's a rat's nest of stolen content, the pages that constantly cycle and aggregate all that bite-sized content—a practice known as freebooting—aren't financially beholden to the company. Well, not directly, and not yet, if we're only talking about ad revenues. No one currently gets a revenue cut from uploading videos on Facebook, unlike YouTube. Facebook has made pains to make sure Facebook-uploaded videos take precedence over YouTube videos on the same feed, and this has been well documented by now. Their house, their rules.

The views, engagement, and shares those freebooter pages garner line Facebook's coffers and bring popularity to those pages, but they convert even less attention to the actual original makers of the video. For instance, Simone Giertz, who's made hilariously ineffective robots for Motherboard and elsewhere, started recently getting eyes on her YouTube channel.


She told me that her wake-up robot video, shown below, got her around 15,000 subscribers since it went up. That's a huge jump, since she only had about 3,000 before that.

However, a reader was kind enough to tell me that her posts were being ripped and re-uploaded to four Facebook pages, all garnering from 3 million up to 18 million views, none of which gave her credit. The LAD Bible, which actually asked for permission and credited Giertz, got 31 million views.

"I think I'm still in the honeymoon phase of creating online content and don't mind that much. But of course it feels a bit terrible to miss out on the revenue that I would have gotten if my YouTube video would have been posted instead," Giertz told me.

The silver lining is that Giertz got 15,000 more subscribers. Great! But when money starts becoming a part of this equation, these popular video pages will be in a bit of a legal grey area. Shouldn't Giertz get a cut of that money? Can these pages get a cut of the revenues for exposing these videos to millions of people who may have never seen it otherwise? Who will think of the unpaid cat owners who spent all their time and energy waiting for that perfect #fail?

We've contacted Facebook to state what its plans are, and will update this story if and when we hear back.

Update: Facebook tells Motherboard that freebooting "is not fair to those who work hard to create amazing videos," so it's developed audio fingerprint technology to help "identify and prevent unauthorized videos" from appearing on the platform. Facebook is also working to "keep repeat infringers off our service."