Word around the k-pop onlineosphere is that k-pop reaction videos on YouTube are being deleted and channels are being closed down. Is this true, why is it happening and should you as a k-pop fan be concerned? This post has the answers!
Are k-pop reaction videos on YouTube being taken down by k-pop companies?
Yes! However so far it’s only one company involved in this, CJE&M. This is however still big enough of a deal to affect a lot of different content, as CJE&M is a subsidiary of CJ Group, who are a huge company roughly on the same tier as Samsung and LG. Not only do they control a lot of k-pop content, importantly, they own broadcasting rights for a lot of the big k-pop TV shows.
Could it be a hoax, or someone impersonating CJE&M? Didn’t the notices come from a Gmail account? What k-pop agency in their right mind uses a Gmail account to do business?
It’s legitimate. Proof:
Which YouTube channels have been affected?
I wouldn’t know exactly. Lots, and it went pretty large. It didn’t hit everyone, but I hear JRE had to remove some videos doe, and others have had their channels removed completely.
Why are these YouTube videos and channels being removed?
The videos and channels are being removed for copyright infringement of content owned by CJE&M and partners.
What does “and partners” mean? Does that mean that CJE&M doesn’t even own the rights to some of the videos that are being removed?
This depends on what type of rights we’re talking about. There’s several different types of copyright. If you write a song, there is copyright in the song, which is administered in Australia by APRA, (the South Korea partner organisation is KOMCA). However there is also copyright in the mechanical recording of the song, administered by AMCOS, and broadcasting licenses are handled by ACMA. Mechanical copyrights aren’t relevant here, but broadcast rights are, and much of the content that YouTubers had their videos taken down for was content from TV shows rather than music videos, which shows that “broadcast rights” may have been the issue.
Here’s how it works in the CJE&M example – say that a YouTube broadcast channel such as M-countdown has a distribution agreement with CJE&M. This means that CJE&M have “broadcast rights” to M-countdown’s videos. This is different from “ownership rights”, and it means that CJE&M can pursue copyright infringement on the “broadcast rights” of these cases, but it also means that they can’t administer any “clearances” for “ownership rights”, so if you were to try and get permission to use a certain video clip from M-countdown you would need to approach M-countdown for the clearance, so you too could have “broadcast rights”. This is a vast oversimplification, but yes it’s legitimate, yes they have the right to do it, and no you’re not going to get anywhere by trying to find a loophole here or bitching on your stupid channel about how it’s a “conspiracy” or some shit.
How is copyrighted content detected on YouTube?
There are two methods of detection. The most common method is automatic detection. When you upload a video onto YouTube and you get the “processing” wait-time at the end where the YouTube elves are shining all your pixels so they look all sparkly and stuff, what YouTube is also doing is feeding your video through a detection process that discovers copyrighted content, this process usually works by analysing the data inside the audio file. Most audio content from major labels is “digitally signed” – there’ll be something specific embedded in the frequency of the audio that isn’t noticeable to the human ear, but that a machine can easily identify. (You can read a very technical overview of the various methods and counter-methods of watermarking here if you’re interested.) When a match is returned, you’ll usually get served on your YouTube channel something like this:
The other type of detection is manual detection, someone from the company combing through videos looking for copyrightable content. This is fairly rare, due to the expense involved in hiring someone to actually do this, but it can happen.
Which method is likely to be used in this case?
The content in question was all specifically live TV content, which is leading many people to believe that it was a CJE&M employee being paid to trawl through various reaction videos looking for specific things. However, a possibility is that the offending TV content was all stamped with the same digital signature which wasn’t included in music video content, to make detection easy. YouTube video-makers convinced that “CJE&M is watching my channel, so they’ll see my response video to this controversy!” probably shouldn’t get their hopes up.
Are companies who own content really allowed to legally remove videos like this?
As you can see above, the Kpopalypse cat video did not get taken down. Some companies are happy to let you use their material in your video, as long as they can still monetize it. However companies do have the right to remove the videos completely, and even take legal action against you.
Can YouTubers defend themselves from action by invoking “Fair Use”?
There are a few different types of usage that can qualify as Fair Use:
- Satire – obviously a parody or satire needs to evoke the original content to a large extent in order to parody it
- Educational purpose – it’s difficult to perform an educational function on an item that can’t ever be shown
- Commentary and criticism – it can be hard to pass comment on an item without demonstrating the item in question
The first two factors don’t really apply to YouTube reaction videos, as there’s generally little to no satire or education happening. Reaction videos on YouTube tend to only invoke the third element, which is commentary and criticism (and usually are fairly light on the “criticism” part, if they want their channels to be popular with k-pop fans). In Fair Use law it is permissible to use a portion of the original content when providing commentary or criticism. The exact extent of this portion however is fairly small and not set in stone, certainly not the entire song. For instance, when I review books I sometimes quote a paragraph from the book, two at most, certainly never any more than this. However if I were to quote an entire chapter of a book, my review might be considered to be crossing the line from “commentary” to “rights infringement”. The same applies to music – arguably a small sample is acceptable when critiquing, but if someone plays the entire song from start to end within their own video, then this is beyond what is needed to critique the song, and becomes a matter of intellectual property theft, as the listener can experience the entire song just by watching the video. Since almost all YouTube reaction videos fall into this category of “well here’s the whole fucking thing”, because reacting to the entirety of the original material is the point, then they don’t really have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to Fair Use.
Can YouTubers defending themselves from action by adding disclaimers to their videos?
No. It’s incredible how little legal weight many disclaimers have. “No copyright infringement intended” on an infringing video is pretty useless, you might as well smoke a joint with T.O.P and say “no getting stoned intended”. A disclaimer can however be used to invoke Fair Use, but that does not by itself make the Fair Use a stronger case, it only indicates how you would choose to defend yourself in the instance of a copyright claim.
Does it matter how old the content is?
Yes, but the content that a YouTube reaction video maker creates has to be over three years old to get past the statute of limitations for a copyright claim, if the matter were to go to a court.
Does it matter if the content is not monetized by the YouTube reaction video maker?
No, it’s still technically infringement, because while you may not be making any income yourself, the law sees it that you are potentially robbing someone else of income by providing their intellectual property to a third party.
Does this mean that all Korean pop content on YouTube that contains any song or image from k-pop is potentially legally actionable and can be taken down at any time?
Yes! The only reason why this type of content exists at all on YouTube is because the companies (mostly) see the benefit of it and allow it, because they can still profit from it. The entire careers of many YouTube reactors are actually completely based upon copyright infringement and can be removed at any time.
CJE&M have in some cases given YouTube creators all of their “three strikes” at once, by hitting three or more of their videos at the same time, thereby getting whole channels taken off instantly without fair warning. Shouldn’t content creators using copyrightable material just get a warning for the first detection, even if multiple videos are pinged for this?
The “three strikes” rule is YouTube policy but it’s not a legal requirement. YouTube creators are still getting off very lightly, if all that happens to them is that their channel vanishes. If we’re going to go by the strict letter of the law of what CJE&M are allowed to do, then they could justifiably not only get videos removed but sue every content creator who uses their material.
Does this mean k-pop reaction v-loggers are now dead?
No. Well at least, not yet. Remember that this move from CJE&M has only really hit live performance video – music video reactions have so far remained untouched, and it remains to be seen whether CJE&M or anyone else cares enough about this issue to clamp down on that – like other large umbrella agencies, they might see the benefit to allow things to continue as they are. Personally I think they’d be crazy to go completely hardball on this issue, but you never know your luck.
If I am a k-pop YouTube reaction video maker, what can I do to protect myself?
- Don’t react to anything specifically made for a TV channel (as opposed to a music video for general distribution)
- Don’t react to anything else, either
- Quit YouTube
- Live somewhere with no electricity
- Consider your life choices
If my channel has already been deleted, can I get it back?
Yes possibly, if you petition YouTube hard enough, but don’t.
How are the k-pop reaction folks who make these videos coping with all of this?
Not very well. Here’s a selection of some fairly understandably upset folks, with reactions ranging from the fairly rational to the tinfoil-hat wearingly bizarre:
I like Cameron Philip’s video about it mainly for the wallpaper in the background, designed to look as much like those backdrops you always see at k-pop fanmeet events and press appearances. The microphone is pretty sexy too. Good job, Cameron!
These guys took it a step further and did a video outside the CJE&M main building in Seoul. Now that’s pretty cool! Filming the outside of buildings is not legally actionable from an intellectual property rights point of view, unless the building has a really spiffy logo, and CJE&M’s logo is pretty shit, so I reckon they are in the clear here and unlikely to get this video taken down.
Holy shit check out that pink chair, that’s totally boss, but what would Dr. Dre think?
This guy is a bit of a let-down as all he has going is some weird screen-saver thing. However he does have great dreads and he shoots his entire upset monologue with no edits so that means there’s lots of silence between words, which are definitely the highlight of this video – props for that.
The above video actually shares a lot of the reality behind this situation and even gets into the copyright law aspect to some extent. Good work! Also he has some great advice for content creators, like “don’t create content, you moron”. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
These guys are the best of all however, they’ve just decided to get rid of the k-pop completely and react to furniture for 90 minutes instead. Good luck on your channel’s new direction, guys! Let’s hope that other k-pop reaction video makers follow this stellar example of diversification!
However there’s one YouTube reaction video celebrity who is unfazed by all of this mess. I’ll leave the last word to everyone’s favourite k-pop reaction video star. Kpopalypse will return with more posts soon!