YouTube Stars Fighting YouTube Networks Over Their Contracts
from the read-before-you-sign dept
Vacas, known online as Braindeadly, has big brown eyes, a fauxhawk, a stubbly goatee and a British accent, discernible as he tells his 40,000 YouTube subscribers goodbye.
"I woke up today hoping to make a video, but I went into a call with Machinima this evening and they said that my contract is completely enforceable. I can't get out of it," Vacas tells the camera. "They said I am with them for the rest of my life — that I am with them forever. If I'm locked down to Machinima for the rest of my life and I've got no freedom, then I don't want to make videos anymore," he says quietly.
The screen fades to black.Ominous, but not entirely unexpected. Those who make their bones on YouTube and any other new platform that might arise aren't going to have traditional avenues for making sure they know what they're signing. In the case of Vacas, he admits to this explicitly, later stating that he signed his Machinima contract quickly, not realizing they would own the rights to anything he produced on YouTube "in perpetuity, throughout the universe, in all forms of media now known or hereafter devised." Even death would not release Vacas of his contractual obligations. It sucks, but he signed it.
The point is that in these early days of YouTube channel capitalization, artists need to be very wary of sharks swimming in those waters. As the article points out, this isn't really new, it's just a different venue.
A recent string of high-profile disputes is prompting comparisons between YouTube networks and the exploitative Hollywood studios of the 1930s and '40s: Both convinced young and naive talent with little leverage to sign contracts that leave them at a disadvantage. For networks, that means contracts that bind creators to them indefinitely, demand rights to their content in perpetuity and take large ownership stakes in any resulting businesses.As ugly as some of these contracts are, as are the intentions of those that wrote them, this should end up working itself out as YouTube matures as a primary entertainment platform. After all, Machinima can have all the dastardly contractual language it likes, but if the artists like Vacas refuse to produce in protest, what good does that do them? Eventually, a middle ground should and will be found. In the past, if you didn't like the contract offered to you by a major gatekeeper, you were pretty much out of luck. Today, however, not only are there more providers, but it's not difficult to "go it alone" if you choose such a path.