Jan 09

Youtube Allows Pirate “Partners” to Profit From Illegal Movie Uploads

tt0245238-1I was on YouTube recently and came across another, not so surprising, downside to their content monetization.  At first I’d noticed some movie trailers that were uploaded, claimed, and monetized by entities other than the studios/rights holders.  Now it’s not surprising that folks upload trailers that aren’t theirs, claim it and make money off it. However, it doesn’t stop there.

How about uploading an entire movie and earning money off it even if you don’t own the rights?  Well, on YouTube it’s apparently pretty easy.  Here’s an example of a Canadian feature film called “Lost and Delirious” that I discovered on YouTube—the entire film, all 95 minutes of it, conveniently offering subtitle options in multiple languages.  Take your pick Czech, French, German, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish…

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Full stream of “Lost and Delirious” complete with subtitles in multiple languages monetized on YouTube by someone other than copyright holder.

When I checked to see what entity “claimed” the film I found that it wasn’t the director Lea Pool or the studio that had claimed it.  It was claimed by YouTube user __u1DkXdYlQ6__.  It’s not a user name per se, the actual uploader seems to be attached to a channel aptly titled “Art Cinema” with the YouTube user name: myArtCinema3.   However, by the looks of it, it appears that  __u1DkXdYlQ6__ is the “Partner” (i.e. monetization account) that has “claimed” the film on behalf of “Art Cinema.”  Since there is advertising on this upload, one can assume that the clip was indeed claimed for the purpose of monetizing it.

Here’s the ownership information for this movie viewed via my CMS dashboard.  The user “asserts ownership” worldwide.  I wonder what the film’s legit distributor thinks about that claim?

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Notice that the film was uploaded on October 15th, 2012 and in less than four months, has already attracted nearly 1.5 million views.  What that means is lots of ad money for YouTube/Google and lots of money for the pirate who uploaded the film.  The filmmaker and her production company apparently get nothing.

This is not an isolated example.  It appears that this same YouTube user has uploaded other complete films, using several accounts,  with varying degrees of success.  In November, “myartcinema4” uploaded and claimed another popular indie film from the 90s,  “The Incredibly True Adventures of  Two Girls in Love.”  It’s already attracted more than 2 million views, worth nearly $6,000, a tidy pirate profit.*

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YouTube user “artcinema4” has uploaded and “claimed” this film. Uploaded in November it’s already attracted more than 2 million views.

Another upload “Antonia’s Line”,  has attracted more than 400,000 views but can’t be monetized since it’s labeled  “age restricted” under YouTube community guidelines (meaning some user tagged it, probably for sexual content).

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Zoosk ad appears at the beginning of this pirated film, despite its “R” rating.

“Lost and Delirious,” also rated “R,” seems to have slipped under the “community” censorship radar–for the time being anyway, but it’s probably why this user uploaded a duplicate copy of the film.  In case the first cash cow gets tagged as having “age restricted” content, the second copy can fill viewer demand and earn clicks and cash for this industrious pirate’s coffers.

Uploaded a month later on November 15th, this second version has garnered more than 119,000 views.  Adding the two together, that’s more than 1.6 million total views.  It’s impossible to know exactly how much income that generates, but it’s likely somewhere around $3,000 so far.

Overall, not a bad payday considering the uploader didn’t do a lick of work…well, unless you count uploading the films and, in profound bit of hubris, adding a customized “art cinema” graphic (below) to the opening credits of  the stolen films.  Of course we’ll also never know how much YouTube/Google makes on these illegal uploads since the company is notoriously opaque when it comes to providing specifics on its billions in advertising income.  I’ve attempted to contact a representative from YouTube for comment on this story and will update if any response is forthcoming.

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YouTube pirate adds his/her own fancy graphic to pirated films.

It also appears that this uploader has created a number of other similarly theme YouTube accounts, four of which (created in September, October and November 2012) under the user names: myArtCinema, myArtCinema2, myArtCinema3, and myArtCinema4.   All four “channels” offer uploads of complete films, some of which are older foreign titles and may be in the public domain.  The uploaded films seem to be linked to various YouTube “Partner” accounts including (__OkhXVt6c-7__) and (__BnxrHCbbK2__), but I suspect they all link back to the same individual, or group of individuals.  Though I haven’t yet been able to confirm this with YouTube,  given the way the channels are presented, organized and linked, it’s hard not to believe otherwise.

There’s also an account, presumably by the same individual, with the moniker artcinema4.  Not sure what happened to artcinema1, 2, and 3…but I would guess they were removed due to repeated copyright infringement.  This thief certainly believes in multiple layers of redundancy to protect his/her scheme.

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This YouTube pirate has opened multiple accounts using variations on the moniker “art cinema” –all feature full-length movies monetized with advertising

One might ask what YouTube should do about this situation?  After all, the films’ distributors don’t seem to have set up Content ID matching to protect  these title, or perhaps they just slipped through (Content ID matching is not infallible).  Should the onus be on them to prevent this kind of theft–theft that benefits the uploader and the host?  By allowing uploads for longer content, including feature length films, YouTube has opened the door to this activity.

I’m all for allowing users to upload works that exceed 20 minutes in length, as long as it’s their own work.  For uploads with running times longer than 20 minutes, why not put the burden on YouTube users to prove that they, in fact, own the rights to such material before it’s approved for upload?  Of course, until recently, YouTube restricted upload lengths for most users, so pirates would often break films into multiple, 10-minute parts….still piracy, but at least that format created a disincentive to watch a pirated movie.

As of now, YouTube seems to place few obstacles in the path of pirates and their profits. Let’s also not forget that it’s the lure of profits, not altruism, that encourages users like “myArtCinema” to upload this type of stolen content in the first place.  This is but one example of a very calculated, and all too common crime.   A crime, that for the time being, has little apparent risk and much potential reward.  Perhaps the films’ rights holders will go to court and ask for the income to which they are entitled.  I hope so.


*My income estimate is based on a similar title that earned $700+ for 250,000 hits on YouTube.  Google/YouTube does not release specific information regarding Youtube monetization income.

This post was first published on my blog Vox Indie.