Need More Video Content? Try Stealing Some

When you watch a video on the Mail Online’s website, served in the Mail Online’s video player, after pre-roll ads sold by the Mail Online’s sales team, you’d be forgiven for thinking the company had the right to monetize that content. You might be wrong.

Video owners say the publisher is taking their content without permission, dropping it in its proprietary player, and then selling ads against it to major advertisers such as Doritos.

Take this video of a giant bungee slingshot, for example, that was created by YouTube star Devin Super Tramp (ne Devin Graham) in conjunction with his sponsor Mountain Dew. The video was posted exclusively on YouTube on Aug. 19, yet it somehow found its way into Mail Online’s video player. Graham isn’t sure how it got there, but he knows the publisher didn’t have permission.

“We never allow our videos to be reuploaded,” Graham told Digiday. “That one was done with Mountain Dew, and [Mail Online] stole it and put ads on it.”

Other rights owners said their videos have wound up on the Mail Online’s site without their permission, too, usually after they’ve posted their content on YouTube.

Mail Online chief revenue officer Rich Sutton told Digiday the site “doesn’t post any content without permission from the rights holder,” and said if it finds video content it wants to feature in its video player, it reaches out to the owners of that content and gains their permission to do so.

But sources say that isn’t true. Content in the Mail Online’s video player and embedded in its article pages appears to have been ripped from YouTube. In some cases the videos even credit YouTube, although YouTube says it has no relationship with the publisher that would allow it to take its videos. If it is ripping content, that would be a breach of its rules, YouTube said.

“The YouTube Terms of Service prohibit downloads of videos from the site and prohibit accessing YouTube videos by any means other than through the use of an authorized YouTube player. We offer public APIs, including an embeddable player, that ensure video creators are compensated appropriately for uses of their content,” a Google spokesperson said.

It’s hard to make money online these days, thanks largely to the downward pressure being placed on banner ad prices. But video content remains a bright spot for most publishers. Prices for pre-roll video ads remain relatively high, which means publishers are doing everything they can to pump out as much video content as possible. In Mail Online’s case, that might mean taking some shortcuts in the process.

To be sure, Mail Online isn’t the only publisher that’s benefiting financially from content that it perhaps shouldn’t be. Break.com, for example, allows users to submit video content against which it sells and serves video ads to big brands. Sometimes that content is copyrighted.

“As a media company that produces thousands of original videos annually for our owned sites and operates one of the largest UGC video sites, we take copyright issues very seriously and strive to publish content from its original source,” a spokesperson for Break.com’s parent company Defy Media said.

Break.com site is largely populated with user-generated content. If a copyright owner submits a complaint, the site will remove it if it’s legally required to do so. But until then, it’s free to serve ads against it. In the world of viral videos, sometimes a few hours is all it takes to suck the juice from a piece of content.

YouTube has had plenty of copyright woes of its own, of course. Viacom attempted to sue it for $1 billion in damages in 2007, but the district court ruled in YouTube’s favor multiple times. Viacom continues to appeal the decision.

Rights owners say they constantly have to police their video content online. They employ teams of people to manually scour the Web looking for infringements, but it’s almost impossible to stay on top of. It’s like one big game of whack-a-mole.

“Ripping and reuploading of our content is something we battle with every day,” said Mike Skogmo, communications director for Jukin Video, which licenses “viral” video content to major online publishers and media companies such as BuzzFeed, ESPN, Fox, CNN and others.

Skogmo declined to disclose specific publishers that have stolen Jukin Video’s content in the past but described it as “a major problem.” It’s constantly filing Digital Millennium Copyright Act infringement complaints, he said, and has some litigation pending.

But Viacom’s experience in the area speaks volumes about the challenges copyright owners face when it comes to protecting their content online. And for content creators such as Devin Super Tramp, there’s little recourse. And every time a pre-roll ad is served against his content without his permission, it’s revenue out of his pocket. But there’s not a lot he can do.

Image via Shutterstock

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