The personal website of Chris Coyier

YouTube Republisher Channels ☹️

Have you heard of a scraper site? A scraper site steals the content from another website and republishes it on their own. If the work is copyrighted, as it is by default, it’s illegal. There isn’t much you can do about it aside from file a DMCA takedown request as the owner of that content. It might work if you can find them and they take you seriously. But it’s a never-ending battle that’s probably not worth fighting for most of us.

There are lots of sites that scrape CSS-Tricks, and I don’t do anything about it because:

  1. It’s too big and painful of a fight, I’d rather spend my energy elsewhere.
  2. It doesn’t affect much anyway.

The reason #2 is true is that Google doesn’t like scrapers either, as far as I know. Google would rather rank the original content creators original content rather than a criminal. Other search engines too, I imagine, but Google is obviously the big player here.

But what if it did affect me? What if there was a site that scraped me, got way higher search engine rankings, way higher traffic, and had a whole toxic community of people commenting on my content?

I’ve seen this happening on some YouTube channels, although not always illegally. YouTube allows you to either choose either of two licenses. One is the “Standard YouTube Licence”, which is like “All Rights Reserved” in which means it’s entirely yours and people can’t download it, change it, redistribute it, etc. The other is “Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)”, which means anyone is free to download it, change it, redistribute it, etc.

If that second option is used, any channel is absolutely free to download, change, and repost the video as their own. I guess that’s kind of the point, but I can’t help but feel it can be done rather shadily. Particularly when the original channel is small, like a channel for a particular conference who posts the videos to be nice and spread the word about their conference. And the republisher channel is massive.

Here’s how I’ve seen it go down several times.

  1. Original channel posts video.
  2. Republisher channel extremely quickly gets to work.
  3. They chop off any introductory material.
  4. They create a custom video thumbnail for it so it looks different than the original.
  5. The re-post it, again, as quickly as they can so the publish date is the same.
  6. The attribution is buried at the bottom of filler explanatory video text.
  7. All advertising options are enabled on the newly posted video when the original had none.
  8. The comments are enabled on the newly posted video when on the original video they were not.

I’m learning that all this can be done directly through YouTube’s Creator Studio. You don’t have to download the video to edit it or even ever leave YouTube.com. There are whole tutorials on it:

On scraper blogs, this “republishing” generally ends up not being a huge deal as the SEO for them is nowhere near the original site in most cases. But in the case of a huge YouTube republisher, it’s the republisher with the great SEO, crushing the original publisher.

When I search for my own talks, even when there is an original publisher with a URL I’ve visited many more times than the republished version, and a version of which I’ve posted on my very own site linking to the original, I get the republisher first:

Or other talks I’m looking for, where the republisher wins out over any other place the original owners put it.

This isn’t just me that takes issue with this. I’ve talked to a number of other developers and conference runners that have taken issue with this. I won’t name them just because I don’t want to drag them into this tirade in case there is backlash.

I said that usually there isn’t anything illegal happening here, which is the case for me because the original videos were posted with licensing that allows this use. I have talked with several conference organizers where the videos were taken and republished without permission and against the license, and they had to fight to get them down.

Even when it is legal, I’d say the damage here can be summarized like this:

I kinda hate to say this but I think my advice would be to generally use the more restrictive YouTube standard license for posting video, particularly if you’re posting on someone else’s behalf. And if you’re a conference organizer that would like to publish video, make sure the speakers know that’s the plan, have approved it, know what license it’s being published under, and that there is risk it’s used for something they don’t want it to be anyway.