Here's a look at just how big a problem 'freebooting' is for Facebook

Mark zuckerbergREUTERS/Jonathan ErnstFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

YouTube star Hank Green wrote a scathing post on Monday entitled “Theft, lies, and Facebook Video” that skewered the social network’s video offerings, particularly as they relate to YouTube. 

Green’s main objections are Facebook’s practice of counting a video that autoplays for at least three seconds as a “view” — which Facebook has long been open about, and is a well-debated issue in the ad industry — and the rampant video “freebooting” that occurs on Facebook. 

In this context, freebooting refers to the act of downloading someone else’s copy-righted material, often from YouTube, and uploading it into Facebook’s native video player. People with huge Facebook followings — including celebrities like Tyrese Gibson and Perez Hilton — have a well-documented penchant for lifting viral videos from other sites and uploading them to Facebook for their own gain. 

In his essay, Green highlights in particular a recent report from ad agency Ogilvy and Tubular Labs which found that 725 the 1,000 most popular Facebook videos in the first quarter were re-uploads of content from other sources. The most-viewed such video racked up 72 million views, while all 725 re-uploaded videos hit a grand total of 17 billion views. 

The criticism comes as Facebook is challenging Google-owned YouTube to become the central hub for consumers to watch online video and to reap the lucrative advertising dollars that come along with it. Facebook says that users view 4 billion videos every day on its social network. YouTube says that it’s videos get “billions” of daily views, but has not updated that figure in several years and now says it prioritises user “watch time.”  YouTube users spend 500 million hours every day watching video, a source told Business Insider. 

Controversial incentives

Green also notes that Facebook’s algorithm favours videos uploaded to its native player rather than those linked from other sites like YouTube. 

“When embedding a YouTube video on your company’s Facebook page is a sure way to see it die a sudden death, we shouldn’t be surprised when they rip it off YouTube and upload it natively,” Green writes. “Facebook’s algorithms encourage this theft.”

Facebook does remove uploaded content that violates intellectual property rights, but doesn’t have the kind of robust system for protecting copyright holders that YouTube has. 

YouTube has long dealt with stolen content via Content ID, a software that monitors all uploads against a database of registered intellectual property and will either remove the content or let the original creator collect ad dollars from it. 

Facebook uses a software provided by Audible Magic to identify and remove illegally uploaded videos. However, as the stat from Ogilvy shows, many videos slip by the software. Green also notes that he and other creators have a hard time finding videos that rip off their work because Facebook doesn’t give users an easy way to search through that content specifically. What’s more, Facebook isn’t always quick to remove content.

“They will take the video down a couple days after you let them know,” he writes. “Y’know, once it’s received 99.9% of the views it will ever receive.”

Green implores FB users to reach out creators if they ever see content they suspect was freebooted, so they can take action. 

A technical challenge

Until FaceboOK releases its own full-scale copyright solution, it can’t roll-out a wide-scale monetisation strategy like pre-roll ads, without the risk of having content thieves make boatloads of money on other people’s videos (which would likely lead to more than a couple lawsuits).

Right now, Facebook is only testing a shared-monetisation model with a handful of brand partners like Funny or Die and the NBA. For most creators, uploading their content to Facebook is simply about increasing their brand awareness and Facebook follower counts. Plus, if they upload their own content, at least theives don’t benefit from it. 

Facebook admits that this isn’t a new problem, and that it’s trying to work fast to come up with a solution. 

“As video continues to grow on Facebook, we’re actively exploring further solutions to help IP owners identify and manage potential infringing content, tailored for our unique platform and ecosystem,” a Facebook spokesperson tells Business Insider. “This is a significant technical challenge to solve, but we have a team working on it and expect to have more to share this summer. As with all products and experiences on Facebook, we’re listening to feedback, and want to continue to improve our content management tools for people and publishers.”

Here’s another YouTube video creator sharing his story of copyright infringement on YouTube: 

 

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