Tim Lince

Popular YouTube user Thinknoodles, who has over 1.7 million subscribers, has spoken out over the perceived inadequacy of brand protection measures available for YouTube channels, hitting out at this week’s decision to modify the site's ‘verified’ tick. He contends that the most popular channels face a significant challenge in tackling copycat accounts, and that a crowdsourced effort may streamline this burdensome process.

We wrote back in June about “a new generation of IP-aware YouTubers”, and looked at the over 2,000 YouTube channels with over 1 million subscribers. With subscribers comes lucrative advertising revenue (with some users earning millions a year), merchandise opportunities and the creation of entertainment brands – and, in turn, a desire and need to protect those brands. While that article focused on the brand protection measures that YouTube channels can implement – such as seeking trademark registration for their name and/or logo – it did not look at the challenge many popular YouTubers face from third party brand misuse.

To that end, we spoke with YouTube user Thinknoodles. He joined YouTube in 2011, and has gained a large subscribers base of over 1.7 million users through his gaming video content. He has been increasingly vocal about the prevalence of fake accounts on YouTube; wherein a user sets up a YouTube account, and copies the name, imagery, profile text and video content of a verified YouTube channel in the hope of confusing viewers and attaining video views on the back of the legitimate channel’s popularity.

Last year, Thinknoodles launched a #FixTheFakes campaign video to raise awareness about the issue. In the video, he says that the issue became critical when YouTube comments required a Google+ account, and subsequently allowed all YouTubers to be able to alter their name – spurring an epidemic of impersonation. However, the ability to report these fake accounts is arduous, he laments, with YouTube often refusing to take down copycat accounts. In the 12 months since, the problem has not been alleviated. He told us: “The situation hasn’t changed at all – it is just as prevalent. It appears that YouTube doesn’t really care much; whether the views are on our verified channels or on these fake accounts, YouTube still earns the advertising revenue.”

To give an idea of the scale of the issue for prominent YouTube accounts, he gave the example of TheDiamondMinecart (also known as DanTDM). With over 12 million subscribers, it is one of the most popular independent YouTube brands. But impersonation of the channel runs rampant, Thinknoodles says. A search of the exact channel name reveals over 1,000 accounts that directly replicate the name. Some of these fake channels, which only re-upload the legitimate channel’s content, have millions of views. “These copy accounts will have new videos up in less than an hour from the original upload,” ThinkNoodles explains. “It is all scripted automatically to download new videos, reupload and publish. In DanTDM’s case, he has had easily hundreds of millions of views leeched. And that’s just one popular creator. And, of course, those millions of views on the fake accounts are all lost to the creators – and, in the case of huge YouTubers, if the views ‘lost’ on their channels were all added up, we are probably talking about six-figure revenue losses.”

Beyond lost revenue, the accounts often use misleading methods that are damaging to a popular channel’s brand. For example, DanTDM – whose account is targeted at a broadly younger demographic – voiced his annoyance recently over an account using his brand name in video titles to upload content with sexually explicit thumbnail images. These videos had been regularly appearing in the sidebar of DanTDM’s own videos, and confusing his subscribers into thinking it was uploaded by him (leading to millions of views for the misleading video). “Dan says when he reports these, they are usually kicked back as ‘not impersonation’,” Thinknoodles tells us, adding: “To me, it’s a minor annoyance, I hardly spend any time thinking about it now. But for others, it’s a constant annoyance and a risk to their brand.”

One key brand protection measure that YouTube offers to tackle fake accounts is a verification system to identify legitimate channels. Much like on Facebook and Twitter, YouTube put a prominent ‘verified tick’ next to the username of high subscriber accounts. However, YouTube modified the tick this week, utilising a smaller, black-on-white icon that can be closely replicated using a keyboard shortcut. This has caused outrage, with popular YouTubers complaining that it is now “even less obvious who the real channels are” and others pointing out how others can now ‘look’ verified.

One possible remedy, Thinknoodle suggests, would be the ability for subscribers to be able to report the impersonation of verified accounts. He proclaims: “The only way to stop these automated re-uploaders, in my opinion, is to crowdsource the reporting. Currently, our fans are not able to make any reports, but only bring them to our attention – which leads to a long process of reporting the videos one-by-one. At the very least, a more-streamlined way of reporting a user for this violation for us would be a big help. Reporting each and every video, and filling out the form to have them removed, is tedious, repetitive and a waste of everyone's time, including YouTube’s.”

We have contacted YouTube to ask why the verification tick was modified, but we have not yet received a response. The site has already proven it can tackle rampant IP infringement with its innovative Content ID system to automatically detect copyrighted music. Whether YouTube will implement similarly effective measures to make it easier for its most popular, and commercially valuable, content channels to tackle brand infringement remains to be seen.

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