Content Monetization: Do Tech Companies Decide what Content is Appropriate?

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In the past few months, online content creators and YouTube have been at odds over monetization and payouts.  Many content creators claim that YouTube had stopping allowing monetization of their videos if the videos include certain topics newly deemed inappropriate for advertising. Many industries have often complained about technology giants having wholesale control over how content is accessed, advertised, and promoted.  In July, I wrote a piece about how many fireworks companies are unable to create a strong online presence or generate sales via the web because companies like Google refuse to allow search engines to return results for “fireworks” queries.

As technology innovates and the Internet increasingly becomes how the general public consumes media and news, technology giants have enormous power and sway over what type of content they want to promote.  When these companies decide to monetize or promote certain content due to advertising concerns or lobbying, it gives technology companies such as YouTube incredible power and sway over what viewers see.

Take for example, a recent dispute between online content creators and YouTube.  This past summer, many content creators began to claim that YouTube had altered its monetization algorithm to flag, for demonetization, content that carried “gun” or “kill” in the video title. Because video game players often gain fame from publicizing video game feats like “killstreaks,” a term used to describe when a player eliminates numerous competitors, without dying, in quick succession and in one single run; such a change in YouTube’s algorithm has severely impacted the revenue generated by these content creators.  These creators believe that YouTube is unfairly targeting certain content, even going as far as flagging videos that use guns in the promotional thumbnail screenshot.

Moreover, these content creators complain that YouTube never officially informed them about such changes in policy.  These creators are upset because many of them have built their following based on their skills in “shooters,” games that allow the video game player to assume the role of a gun-wielding protagonist.  As such, many famous YouTube content creators have openly discussed switching to other gaming platforms such as Twitch in order to monetize their content more consistently.

YouTube, however, has responded to these complaints.  First, they point to an announcement issued in March that informed content creators that advertisers were to be given more choice and control over where their ads ran.  Citing that their algorithms rely on machine learning and appeals from the content creators, YouTube has denied that they target specific videos due to gun content.  Instead, YouTube has suggested that specific videos many have been demonetized due to overly-excessive violence or profanity, and as such, it may have been the advertisers who ultimately chose to pass over the content for monetization.

Moreover, YouTube has always had advertising guidelines that state that video content which focuses on blood and violence, without suitable context, may render a video ineligible for monetization.  While normal gameplay may be generally accepted, videos that solely focus on gratuitous violence may be deemed inappropriate for use in conjunction with advertising.

Because technology companies may now choose what content they wish to promote due to advertising revenue, clients should consult experienced intellectual property counsel regarding their content.  Counsel can conduct due diligence and advise clients whether their content meets the platform’s guidelines and whether monetization will be optimized.  This way, a client can efficiently roll out their content on the proper platform and tailor their message to avoid any controversy, allowing them to avoid missing out on any revenue generated by the video once it goes public.

For more information on this topic, please visit our Social Media Law service page, which is part of our Internet & eCommerce Practice.

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Klemchuk LLP is an Intellectual Property (IP), Technology, Internet, and Business law firm located in Dallas, TX.  The firm offers comprehensive legal services including litigation and enforcement of all forms of IP as well as registration and licensing of patents, trademarks, trade dress, and copyrights.  The firm also provides a wide range of technology, Internet, e-commerce, and business services including business planning, formation, and financing, mergers and acquisitions, business litigation, data privacy, and domain name dispute resolution.Additional information about the Internet & eCommerce law firm and its Internet & eCommerce attorneys may be found at www.klemchuk.com.

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