This article originally appeared on VICE US.
No Sleep, a popular Reddit community for original horror fiction, has locked its subreddit "to protest content theft and unfair crediting and compensation" from YouTubers.
You've probably been freaked out by a story that was originally published on No Sleep before. Whether it's the story of the pop song that makes you commit suicide, or the tales of a fictional search and rescue officer for the U.S. Forest Service, No Sleep has been staying true to its name by keeping me and it's over fourteen million subscribers awake at night. Starting this Monday, though, the subreddit will be locked for a week. In their statement about this closure, the mods of the subreddit say that it's because their authors are being plagued by theft of their work. People on YouTube will read or narrate the stories without credit or permission.
"There are still people sharing and narrating r/nosleep stories without permission. There are still fans of those channels and pages who are either ignorant of copyright laws in regards to posting written work to the internet or refuse to believe that those laws exist. There are still authors who aren’t aware that they have rights in regards to what is done with their stories once they are posted," the mods said in their collective statement about the closure. "So we, the mods of r/nosleep, have decided to take a stand in support of our authors and the projects that have been created to fight on their behalf."
Christine Druga, one of No Sleep's mods, said over email that this problem has spanned years. Two years ago, Druga said that they created a subreddit to help foster a positive relationship between authors and the people who would like to narrate their work in YouTube videos. Between then and now, several other communities have been created to both educate writers about their rights and teach YouTubers about copyright. Nothing has worked, and the issue has come to a head this month.
"The Youtuber Mini Ladd, who has over 5 million subscribers, had read several r/nosleep stories on his channel without permission. After 4 months of attempting to contact him to resolve the issue, a handful of the affected authors filed DMCA strikes against the videos, and his channel was scheduled for deletion," Druga said. With his channel under threat, Mini Ladd's fans rallied to his defense, and Durga said that No Sleep authors ended up being harassed, claiming one of them was doxed.
"Mini Ladd wound up posting a public apology and contacting the affected authors to resolve the issue, and his channel was saved. Unfortunately, the damage that had absolutely rocked the community had already been done," Druga said.
Motherboard reached out to Mini Ladd regarding this incident but have not yet received a response.
Druga claims that, for the authors that have their work read on YouTube, the damage can range from mild annoyance to loss of livelihood.
"Some authors have nearly lost paying gigs because of it, others have stopped posting to r/nosleep and/or removed their stories from the subreddit completely because they were so tired of seeing their work stolen," Druga said.
Olivia White, who is an author on No Sleep and also works for the unaffiliated No Sleep podcast, said that this theft has affected her in multiple ways. The No Sleep podcast, which pays authors for the right to reproduce their work, now also has to compete with YouTubers with much larger audiences than them.
"People taking and adapting my work from r/nosleep means they’re literally reproducing something that someone else holds the audio rights to," White said. "Sometimes it’s a story we’ve already run on the podcast, and may want to do something else with in future, so having random Youtubers adapt it without permission makes that harder too."
Author T-Jay Lea, whose first book comes out August 31, said that he estimates that he's lost $10-30,000 in revenue.
"That would be a conservative estimate," he said.
Lea has watched people on YouTube and elsewhere steal his work without credit since 2012, when he wrote a short story called "The Expressionless" which went viral.
"I will tell you straight up that for several years it killed my love of writing," Lea continued. "I saw all these adaptations of my work and once the glamour of 'exposure' faded and I saw it was not a neon sign but instead a paltry promise with nothing behind it, I felt powerless to stop it all from happening. I was a 22-year-old kid with no experience in the industry, no understanding of how I should be adequately paid and in some cases I believed bigger YouTubers who said they 'couldn’t afford to pay me.'"
If you're not a huge corporation with tons of money and an army of lawyers, creating original work on the internet often leads to people ripping off that work. Independent artists face a myriad of copycats selling their work on Amazon, and teenagers with Tumblrs see their artwork traced and slapped on album covers. It's no different in the world of original fiction, where someone can swoop in, read your story, and make money off of it without asking permission or obtaining the rights to the work. That said, authors on No Sleep haven't unilaterally been screwed over by the people who want to adapt their work. The anthology television show Channel Zero has based some of its seasons on work that was originally posted to No Sleep, and properly licenses, credits and pays the authors.
Druga said that she hopes that the people who want to narrate original fiction and authors of it can come to a mutual understanding, because they have more to gain by working together.
"There is so much potential for the communities to work together and to promote each other, they just need to learn the right way and what's necessary to do it," Druga said. "I really, genuinely, hope that all of the hard work we have put forth leads to the two communities to form a better relationship."
No Sleep will reopen its virtual doors at midnight on March 2. Hopefully the authors who post their work there can finally close the book on this particular art theft horror story.