youtube isn't your friend, it's your boss

Shock! Horror! It’s just after breaking that Article 13, arguably one of the biggest things scaring extremely-online nerds has been voted in by the European Parliament, presumably bringing us filthy Europeans into an online caliphate where everything left online is just a series of regurgitated scenes from The Late Late Show with James Corden. Some of the coverage surrounding the article is downright apocalyptic, with every annoying person on Reddit screaming incoherently about how it’ll supposedly make memes illegal and every mildly-successful tech company is pulling the whole “this will stifle online expression” wank all over again. I dare you to take a shot every time some pimply-faced mouth-breather says some variation of the sentence “This is a dark day for online freedom” in the YouTube comment section of a video hosted by an oddly right-wing furry. Now, this isn’t to say that Article 13 is good (I’m not that much of a spiteful contrarian!), it’s an objectively stupid attempt by those with a large amount of money to wring slightly more money out of tech companies who also have a large amount of money. Sure both sides have a wank about how this will either aid or hurt the mythical “small creator” but in reality, the whole argument is just framed incorrectly and neither side truly cares about the creator. The whole discourse surrounding Article 13 (like all discussions on laws relating to the internet) is just seen from a weird “us vs them” angle where on one side there’s “us”, the cool internet users and tech CEOs who know things and care about concepts such as “freedom of expression” and “the online community” while on the other side there’s “them” - old farts in government who still use Windows 98, google image search “legs” to jerk off and smell weird. In reality things are quite different. Today I’m going to try to use Article 13 as a launching pad to talk about how we as small creators need to organize, how discussions like these need to be framed in future and how writing the same blog post over and over is actually productive guys!

The first thing that we as creators need to realize is that we are not on the same side as big tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Patreon. We do not share the same interests as them, we do not always benefit when they benefit and we are not part of some big “team” with the tech CEOs. Their platforms are not a community, their companies aren’t charities and their CEOs aren’t creators. However, some of us are dependent on their platforms to make a living, some of us have audiences locked into these platforms and some of us have lost out heavily as a result of minor changes made by these companies in order to maximize profit (just talk to any YouTube animator). If anything, the relationship that we as creators share with companies such as YouTube, Facebook and Patreon resembles more the employer/employee dynamic than anything representing a team or a community. In other words, YouTube isn’t your friend, it’s your boss. Now initially this is quite hard to accept - after all making content online isn’t a “real” job, right? However, this quote-unquote realness doesn’t cancel out the fact that people make a living based solely on these websites and it ignores the fact that this classification of content creation as a “fake job” just benefits these companies. After all, if they were classified as “real” employers they’d have to do “real” employer things such as providing their employees basic rights. I am reminded here of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s interview with VICE, in which he points out that the first step we should take when dealing with these post-modern “non-bosses” is simply just to force them to act like the bosses they are. We aren’t “partners”, we aren’t “affiliates”, we aren’t “independent contractors”, we’re employees. These companies profit off the surplus value of our labour, even if they come up with new terms to hide that fact. We could create without them, they can’t create without us.

The discussion on Article 13 framing the content creators as on the same side” as companies like Google is inherently flawed as the big companies just aren’t going to be effected as badly in the long-term by it as the average creator. Google, for example could actually end up doing quite decently as a result of this law passing. An article published recently on wired.co.uk pointed out that Google already owns one of the best automatic copyright-detection systems (the infamous ContentID) and as a result could make bank selling it to other companies scared of getting sued. At most this is just a mild annoyance for them, they’re still going to have stupid amounts of money and power either way so they don’t have to care as much as the actual creators who are at risk of making real losses.

The second thing we need to realize is that the establishment politicians aren’t simply just inept at computers, they’re inept at computers and they’re serving capital. Even if we elected politicians who knew how the internet worked it’s not as if that’s going to suddenly stop the neoliberal establishment from backing laws which benefit the rich while screwing over the average Joe in the process. There’s a reason why a majority of the MEPs who voted in favour of Article 13 were from centre-right, neoliberal parties (e.g Fine Gael). It’s something in line with their ideology (siding with the rich) and it’s something that their donors wanted. An article on Techdirt published this January pointed out that the actual lobbying efforts on EU copyright law were spearheaded by the legacy entertainment industry and copyright companies such as Audible Magic, who sell a copyright detection system similar to ContentID. In other words, those who would actively profit from the passing of Article 13 lobbied heavily in order to make sure it would pass. Now it’s fairly obvious that there was no real grassroots support for Article 13, that alone should be obvious based on the fact that you’ve probably never met anyone who supports it. It only passed because of the constant lobbying and because the corporate donors who keep the neoliberal show going were in favour of it. Therefore, framing the politicians as a bunch of inept old people who can’t use a computer is silly, in reality the politicians were a bunch of inept people who can’t use a computer and voted for Article 13 since they were lobbied by corporate donors to do so. The solution isn’t simply just electing politicians who can download google chrome without getting a virus, it’s electing politicians who don’t take corporate donations and represent the many, not the few.

So what are we as creators to do if both big tech and the political establishment don’t give a toss about us? The answer is simple, unite. As the unionization of digital companies such as Gizmodo Media Group, VICE and Vox has shown, the best way for us as creators to represent our interests is through banding together and collectively fighting for better treatment ourselves - whether that takes the form of lobbying governments, voting in better politicians or directly negotiating with companies. It’s not going to solve every problem, making things under capitalism is going to suck in some form constantly. However, it’s a start. Article 13 will probably not really work out in practice, after all it’s nearly impossible to properly regulate the internet in any way and let’s be honest, half the internet is already breaking some form of copyright law right now and nobody cares. However, it’s a perfect warning sign to anyone who makes things online that those in power are not on our side - regardless of their song and dance about “freedom of expression” and “community” in their blog posts. At the end of the day under capitalism we as creators have one choice, unite or die.

If you’ve read this far you’d probably enjoy one of my other bad blog posts about dumb online shite:

your struggle isn’t new - yoñlu, alienation and the internet

piracy is good actually

you got what you wanted