13 August 2019
We’re still waiting for an official answer from YouTube. For the most part, YouTube didn’t offer a response to our proposals when asked about them by journalists. But they did reply to Forbes. Here’s the full statement, according to Forbes:
We're deeply invested in creators' success, that's why we share the majority of revenue with them. We also need to ensure that users feel safe and that advertisers feel confident that YouTube is safe for their brand. We take lots of feedback as we work to get this balance right, including by meeting with hundreds of creators every year. However, contrary to what is being claimed, YouTube creators are not YouTube employees by legal status.
Here’s what we think:
- YouTube says: “We’re deeply invested in creators’ success, that's why we share the majority of revenue with them.”
Our response: If Creators didn’t upload their videos to the platform, YouTube would make no revenue at all. The vast majority of value on the platform is produced by the Creators — and they also bear most of the risk. The problem is, in the last few years, because of the increasing lack of transparency around monetization, this risk has become impossible to calculate. Unlike truly self employed contractors or entrepreneurs, Creators are no longer independent economic agents free to make informed, calculated business risks — rather, they are subjects in a vast, kafkaesque cybernetic bureaucracy whose primary accountabilities are to investors, advertisers, and — occasionally, when the situation gets extreme enough — outraged members of the public. YouTube is not an open market with fair competition and transparent rules that apply uniformly to everyone; rather, it is a game where the rules constantly change, and some “players” are treated differently from others.
Here’s a question: advertisers can see exactly which videos their ads appeared on. Don’t Creators deserve the same degree of transparency?
- YouTube says: “We also need to ensure that users feel safe and that advertisers feel confident that YouTube is safe for their brand.”
Our response: Of course! This is extremely important. YouTube serves the function of a public sphere, and it should be safe for everyone. And of coruse, Creators would love to feel safe in the knowledge that they know the “rules of the game” that determine their livelihoods: what criteria does YouTube use to decide which videos will be monetized and which won’t?
Why are these rules kept secret, and why can’t a Creator get clear guidance from a human being at YouTube about how to avoid demonetization?
- YouTube says: “We take lots of feedback as we work to get this balance right, including by meeting with hundreds of creators every year.”
Our response: A few hundred creators is a drop in the ocean. The Youtubers Union is just getting started and we already have 21,000 members.
Here are a few questions: Which creators does YouTube talk to? What do they talk about? Why do some Creators have privileged access, while thousands of others can’t even talk to a human about a demonetization decision? Just as YouTube keeps the rules and processes by which they evaluate videos secret, they’re keeping the processes by which they decide which Creators they ask for input secret. It’s long past time for YouTube to end the secrecy and get transparent — not only about the rules for demonetization and recommendation, but also about who gets input into decisions that affect all Creators.
Talking about the situation as striking a “balance” misses the point. The speed limit in California is 65 miles per hour; we can only discuss whether this number is too high or too low because we know what the number is. Right now, on YouTube, all Creators know is that there is a limit and it’s somewhere between 25 and 100 miles per hour. It might even be different for different Creators! We have no way to know, because YouTube won’t say. The analogy makes clear how absurd the situation is. We are not even contesting YouTube’s right to decide what the number is — we just want to know what it is.
- YouTube says: “However, contrary to what is being claimed, YouTube creators are not YouTube employees by legal status.”
Our response: It would be illuminating to see YouTube’s legal analysis. But one thing is clear: YouTube’s Community Guidelines and — especially — Advertiser-Friendly Content Guidelines let YouTube control Creators to an extent that isn’t consistent with the traditional freedoms of self-employed contractors. Rather, the fine control that these Guidelines allow YouTube to exert over Creators is more consistent with the “subordinate” relationship experienced by employees. But YouTube provides Creators none of the benefits or protections of employees.
YouTube, like Uber and Lyft, gets the best of both worlds: none of the responsibilities it would have if it hired Creators as employees, and fine control over content. Creators, on the other hand, have the worst of both worlds: they don’t have the protections employees have, but neither do they have the freedom to act as “free agents” on an “open marketplace” that truly self-employed content creators would have.