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Copying other people’s stuff and making it appear to be your own is a business. And that business belongs to YouTube.

I watched the video from Harry Brewis about plagiarism on YouTube that a bunch of people are talking about. I found it to be overly long but generally good.

While I found his analysis to be shocking, I can’t say as it was all that surprising.

Dollars to donuts, if there were a way to run this same analysis broadly on content-creator videos across YouTube, you’d find this sort of copying to be rampant. The platform has created an enormous marketplace for monetizeable content, and there are not enough people in the world with the time, money, and energy to meet the demand by producing legitimate, original stuff.

So what we’re left with is a whole bunch of content creators incentivesized to quickly and cheaply put out as much video as possible. It’s a lot easier to do that if you just take and copy stuff other people have already made. If there is no downside to it if you get caught, that’s what a bunch of people are going to do. It is basically the same pattern you get on Amazon now, where every search yields a wall of knock-off, cheapo products with weird, machine-generated brands names—another surreal, dysfunctional ecosystem created by a huge number of players trying to game the incentives system.

I feel like the “Information wants to be free!”/Everything Is a Remix crowd has something to answer for here as well. I am more sympathetic to the remix crowd, but even with that, it feels like a lot of this plagiarism abuse we’re seeing on YouTube is at least somewhat an unintended consequence of that rhetoric. While I don’t want to excuse James Somerton lifting whole passages from other writers, stitching them together and passing them off as his own, I think it would probably be harder than we might expect to clearly differentiate why that’s wrong while something like a mashup of a bunch of different songs is fine.

Mostly, though, this problem is one of YouTube’s creation. Yes, there are bad actors—like the ones called out in Brewis’s video—taking advantage of the system. However, YouTube holds all the power here, and they have created a system in which it is super-easy to rip off other people’s stuff, call it your own, and make money off of it. YouTube has built this kind of system because they make money from selling advertising against the videos they host and it is in their interest to have as much content as possible on their platform.

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