#CreditTheCreator: Using Copyright Law and Online Norms to Combat Freebooting

Makena Binker Cosen

Making it on YouTube requires dedication. A survey found that it takes an average of 7 hours to make a 1–5 minute YouTube video.[1] Aspiring YouTubers are recommended to post new videos between once a day and once a week to find success on the platform.[2] Most creators maintain a full-time job while striving to meet ambitious posting schedules.[3] “Freebooters” are taking advantage of their hard work.

Freebooting is the act of re-uploading another creator’s content online for personal gain, without the creator’s consent; in other words, freebooting is copyright infringement under a different name.[4] By stealing from multitudes of creators and generating a hub of curated content, freebooters can out-produce and amass more views than any individual creator could. Theoretically, this implies that content thieves could introduce smaller creators to new viewers. However, comedy YouTuber Jack “jacksfilms” Douglass disagrees.[5] In practice, while viewers might seek out an original creator’s work, he explains that they are unlikely to watch the same video twice. Once a freebooter re-uploads a creator’s entire catalogue, the hoax of exposure value disappears. The reality is that freebooters are taking creators’ views, watch time, and user engagement, interfering with their ability to bargain with brands for more competitive sponsorship deals—the main source of most creators’ revenue.[6]

Freebooters have responded to copyright infringement claims and criticism with intimidation. Take music creator Gavan “TheRealSullyG” Sullivan’s experience as an example. He has successfully used YouTube’s takedown request system to remove unauthorized re-uploads of his videos. Yet, what should have been a vindicating process ended with a bold message in his inbox: “U already got ur views f***** stop being greedy we all gotta eat.”[7] The infringer’s sense of entitlement to Gavan’s work is evocative of an online culture lacking respect for the intensive art of content creation. Throughout his seventeen-year YouTube career, Douglass has used his comedy platform to educate viewers and empower creators to #CreditTheCreator.

For the past year, Douglass has worked to expose popular YouTuber Alia “SssniperWolf” Shelesh for freebooting. Known for her video-game related content, she has recently transitioned to reacting to TikTok videos. A reaction video shows someone or a group of people reacting to something for the first time.[8] These videos often include context and commentary on the content being watched. People enjoy watching reaction videos to feel connected to the person reacting. Nonetheless, the formulaic nature of Shelesh’s reactions inspired user @Pieosaurus3 to share a “Sssniperwolf video” bingo card on X, formerly known as Twitter, featuring tiles like “Ooooooh noooooo.”[9] Out of all the reaction channels on YouTube, Douglass claims he has focused on criticizing @SssniperWolf because of the public praise she has received from the platform.[10]

Douglass has blamed Shelesh of merely summarizing TikToks, cutting them short to appropriate the creator’s punchline, and covering up the creators’ usernames.[11] He has identified several instances where Shelesh does not react to the TikToks in her videos or even include side-by-side footage of herself on-screen. After news broke that Shelesh bought a multi-million-dollar mansion, Douglass alleges that she reacts to the same TikToks within and across videos to make them long enough to be eligible for additional ad spots on YouTube.[12]

Last month, the back-and-forth on social media between Douglass and Shelesh escalated when she posted a recording of the outside of Douglass’ home to her 5.5 million followers on Instagram.[13] Commenting on the doxxing, Douglass shared that he and his wife are “scared to leave [their] home and strongly considering moving.”[14] Douglass asked YouTube to intervene by removing @SssniperWolf from the platform for violating Community Guidelines. After receiving pressure from the online creator community and its fans, YouTube temporarily demonetized @SssniperWolf’s videos, meaning she will not receive ad revenue from her channel. Shelesh has since apologized on X “for not being a better example of appropriate conflict resolution.”[15]

The #CreditTheCreator movement is leading a commendable cultural shift online. Douglass’ videos have encouraged content creators and viewers alike to identify and speak out against content theft. On his new satirical channel @JJJacksfilms, Douglass has modeled what he thinks reaction videos ought to look like by reacting to @SssniperWolf’s reaction videos—and by crediting the creators in her videos whenever possible.[16] More recently, he has requested voluntary submissions by creators of videos for him to react to and provide constructive feedback.[17] Still, creating new online norms may not be enough to combat freebooting. Douglass expressed concern that raising awareness about content theft among viewers will not reach audiences like @SssniperWolf’s, which are largely made up of children.[18] That is why he is also advocating for creators to use YouTube’s copyright removal request system: the more creators enforce their copyrights, the less likely would-be-infringers will violate them.


[1] Vidya Narayanan, How Long Does It Take To Create A YouTube Video?, Medium (Sep. 25, 2019), https://medium.com/rizzle/how-long-does-it-take-to-create-a-youtube-video-266ae3496bf3 [https://perma.cc/3V64-MU6U] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231120052639/https://medium.com/rizzle/how-long-does-it-take-to-create-a-youtube-video-266ae3496bf3].

[2] How Often Should You Post on Youtube: The Ultimate Guide, repeattube, https://www.repeattube.net/blog/how-often-should-you-post-on-youtube/ [https://perma.cc/MW28-ZXSU] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231120053144/https://www.repeattube.net/blog/how-often-should-you-post-on-youtube/].

[3] “Future of Creativity” Study Creators in the Creator Economy, Adobe (Aug. 25, 2022, 9:00 AM), https://news.adobe.com/news/news-details/2022/Adobe-Future-of-Creativity-Study-165M-Creators-Joined-Creator-Economy-Since-2020/ [https://perma.cc/79B6-TYCS] [https://web.archive.org/save/https://news.adobe.com/news/news-details/2022/Adobe-Future-of-Creativity-Study-165M-Creators-Joined-Creator-Economy-Since-2020/#:~:text=/web/20231120053252/https%3A//news.adobe.com/news/news%2Ddetails/2022/Adobe%2DFuture%2Dof%2DCreativity%2DStudy%2D165M%2DCreators%2DJoined%2DCreator%2DEconomy%2DSince%2D2020].

[4] Will Oremus, Facebook’s Piracy Problem, Slate (Jul. 8, 2015, 11:44 AM), https://slate.com/technology/2015/07/freebooting-stolen-youtube-videos-going-viral-on-facebook.html [https://perma.cc/5QC4-RZ22] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231120053350/https://slate.com/technology/2015/07/freebooting-stolen-youtube-videos-going-viral-on-facebook.html].

[5] @jacksfilms, The War on Stolen Content!, YouTube (Sep. 29, 2023), https://youtu.be/eI0VD3Hut0Y?si=yVGyyUQ4tJ-Hze88 [https://perma.cc/Y9XL-FL55] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231120053450/https://www.youtube.com/watch?si=yVGyyUQ4tJ-Hze88&v=eI0VD3Hut0Y&feature=youtu.be].

[6] Werner Geyser, Creator Earnings: Benchmark Report 2023, Influencer Mktg. Hub (Oct. 31, 2023), https://influencermarketinghub.com/creator-earnings-benchmark-report/ [https://perma.cc/7D9M-ZL9X] [https://web.archive.org/save/https://influencermarketinghub.com/creator-earnings-benchmark-report/#:~:text=/web/20231120053530/https%3A//influencermarketinghub.com/creator%2Dearnings%2Dbenchmark%2Dreport/].

[7] @jacksfilms, supra note 5.

[8] Reaction Videos: Why They're So Trendy and How To Make Them, Podcastle (Aug. 8, 2023), https://podcastle.ai/blog/what-are-reaction-videos/ [https://perma.cc/G3HQ-EPV6] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231120053626/https://podcastle.ai/blog/what-are-reaction-videos/].

[9] @Pieosaurus3, Twitter (Jul. 28, 2023, 12:22 AM), https://twitter.com/Pieosaurus3/status/1684781240405151744?lang=en [https://perma.cc/5FAJ-G3PY] [No WayBack Archive Available].

[10] @jacksfilms, Let's Tttalk About Sssniperwolf, YouTube (Jul. 26, 2023), https://youtu.be/oMjWaPsGY80?si=xdxd4EtPOx_fJGmc [https://perma.cc/5FAJ-G3PY] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231120131701/https://www.youtube.com/watch?si=xdxd4EtPOx_fJGmc&v=oMjWaPsGY80&feature=youtu.be].

[11] @jacksfilms, Sssniperwolf Is Getting Worse. Here's Proof, YouTube (Aug. 16, 2023), https://youtu.be/DB7LvVllAQI?si=fcXnqAab3VPpZhk8 [https://perma.cc/H7QY-S9Y9] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231120131843/https://www.youtube.com/watch?si=fcXnqAab3VPpZhk8&v=DB7LvVllAQI&feature=youtu.be].

[12] Matt Porter, SSSniperWolf Shows What a YouTube Career Can Buy with Insane New House Tour, Dexerto (Jul. 22, 2019, 11:27 AM), https://www.dexerto.com/entertainment/sssniper-wolf-shows-what-a-you-tube-career-can-buy-with-insane-new-house-tour-832686/ [https://perma.cc/BZD3-NK6Y] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231120131923/https://www.dexerto.com/entertainment/sssniper-wolf-shows-what-a-you-tube-career-can-buy-with-insane-new-house-tour-832686/].

[13] @jacksfilms, Sssniperwolf but Every 10 Seconds I Read a Tweet She Sent Me Tonight, YouTube (Jun. 29, 2023), https://youtu.be/9BU-42iV2jM?si=i3iDkXXaftngrC_I [https://perma.cc/DWU9-39N5] [https://web.archive.org/save/https://youtu.be/9BU-42iV2jM?si=i3iDkXXaftngrC_I#:~:text=/web/20231120132015/https%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fsi%3Di3iDkXXaftngrC_I%26v%3D9BU%2D42iV2jM%26feature%3Dyoutu.be]; Antonio Pequeño IV, YouTube Temporarily Demonetizes SSSniperWolf After Doxxing Controversy, Forbes (Oct. 20, 2023, 4:51 PM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/antoniopequenoiv/2023/10/20/youtube-temporarily-demonetizes-sssniperwolf-after-doxxing-controversy/?sh=3eea38697cdc [https://perma.cc/SWB7-3H35] [https://web.archive.org/save/https://www.forbes.com/sites/antoniopequenoiv/2023/10/20/youtube-temporarily-demonetizes-sssniperwolf-after-doxxing-controversy/?sh=3eea38697cdc#:~:text=/web/20231120132114/https%3A//www.forbes.com/blaize/account].

[14] @JJJacksfilms, What Comes Next, YouTube (Nov. 3, 2023), https://youtu.be/QPUVa967GHE?si=ljoLNPZ8qdfwivcm [https://perma.cc/ZS47-JE4H] [https://web.archive.org/save/https://youtu.be/QPUVa967GHE?si=ljoLNPZ8qdfwivcm#:~:text=/web/20231120132223/https%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fsi%3DljoLNPZ8qdfwivcm%26v%3DQPUVa967GHE%26feature%3Dyoutu.be].

[15] Access to @SSSniperwolf’s X account has since been switched to “protected,” with tweets available only for approved followers.

[16] @JJJacksfilms, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/@jjjacksfilms [https://perma.cc/N3YY-XDBB] [https://web.archive.org/save/https://www.youtube.com/@jjjacksfilms#:~:text=/web/20231120132438/https%3A//www.youtube.com/%40jjjacksfilms].

[17] @JJJacksfilms, Welcome To Creator Bingo!, YouTube (Nov. 13, 2023), https://youtu.be/8VUFLZnpbNw?si=rlLMMPCOvr6Br1hG [https://perma.cc/2S4F-ABCC] [https://web.archive.org/save/https://youtu.be/8VUFLZnpbNw?si=rlLMMPCOvr6Br1hG#:~:text=/web/20231120132404/https%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fsi%3DrlLMMPCOvr6Br1hG%26v%3D8VUFLZnpbNw%26feature%3Dyoutu.be].

[18] @jacksfilms, supra note 10.