YouTube’s copyright war has just gone nuclear

By Adam Westbrook 9 June 2016
image: istock/coloroftime

The days of making harmless YouTube videos are over.

A young British YouTuber has found himself at the end of a potentially devastating lawsuit for a video he made celebrating the films of Stanley Kubrick.

Lewis Bond, 22, uploaded the video essay in February, but last week received a court summons claiming it infringed copyright. In a new video revealing his situation, Bond doesn’t specifically say who is suing him, but said they were demanding the maximum damages for copyright, which is $150,000 (£102,000).

“I don’t know what to do” he told fans on his channel.

“This would ruin me. Everything that I have built up to this point, it would be over. I don’t make that much money from what I do, I do it because I love it.”

Bond’s situation marks a dramatic escalation in how movie studios, record labels and other holders of copyright material are dealing with YouTubers who use and remix their content.

The video essay in particular has been at the forefront of the battle.

The format has exploded in popularity in recent years, with film fans, students and professionals starting successful channels to analyse their favourite movies.

Channels like Every Frame a Painting, The Nerdwriter and Lewis’s own Channel Criswell have millions of subscribers collectively, inspiring more to follow in their footsteps.

The death of fair use?

But it turns out celebrating your favourite movies could be a dangerous business.

Analysing a film in video requires using clips from the movie in order to make your point. The films are protected by copyright and if a TV programme, for example, were to use the same clips, they would be required to pay a hefty licence fee.

Video essayists on YouTube have tried to circumvent this cost by claiming “fair use” – an exemption from copyright provided the material used is limited and for educational purposes. So far, movie studios and other copyright holders have responded by issuing a copyright claim through YouTube, which often results in the video getting taken down.

However as some of the channels have grown in popularity – and in income – it seems the copyright holders have begun suing content creators directly.

YouTubers are not going down without a fight

Another YouTube channel, H3H3 has just crowdfunded more than $168,000 to set up FUPAa legal defence fund for YouTubers hit by similar copyright claims. Many supporters believe it’s important to stand up to big corporations who attack independent, often amateur, filmmakers and enthusiasts with big legal fees.

The situation highlights the inadequacy of current copyright laws to handle the explosion of content on the Internet. The murkiness of the legislation means one YouTuber, like Lewis Bond, can be sued for his use of film clips, while another is praised by the director of the movie.

Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton praises a video essay which uses copyright material from his film:

After revealing his situation on his YouTube channel, Bond has received thousands of comments of support from fans.

In an update, he said he has spoken to Michael Lee and Ryan Morrison, two prominent lawyers specialising in YouTube copyright cases.

It seems the case will hang over his head for some time.

“If at age 22, the thing that I love more than anything gets taken away from me, and I can’t do it any more” Bond said.

“I don’t know what I’d do.”

Update: on 29 July 2016 Lewis Bond revealed that the case against him had been “dismissed” after legal help from Michael Lee.