German Crossbow YouTuber Fights Online Video Giant For Rights

German Crossbow YouTuber Fights Online Video Giant For Rights - Surge Zirc SA
Joerg Sprave says he and around 26,000 fellow creators are joining a global fight against YouTube for better conditions

As a YouTuber, Joerg Sprave, has for years uploaded clips of his wackier projectile-throwing creations to YouTube, where he has hundreds of millions of views and 2.4 million subscribers. With the above, Sprave is regarded as one of the top 50 YouTubers nationwide.

Meanwhile, years of hard blows to those earning their living on the streaming platform have turned him into a fighter against YouTube. Sprave have enlisted about 26,000 fellow creators worldwide who have joined the fight for better conditions and the unexpected support of one of Germany’s biggest unions.

“I’m not fighting for myself, I’m fighting because I love YouTube, and I fear that the management’s mistakes are endangering it,” Sprave told AFP.

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Sprave and the members of his “YouTubers’ Union” Facebook group aren’t global YouTube royalty, like gamer Felix Kjellberg with his 102 million followers under the alias PewDiePie.

Up until 2017, a YouTuber can earn a healthy living from creations. Sprave revealed he used to make around 6,000 euros ($6,500) monthly after going full-time as a YouTuber, but these days he counts himself lucky to see 1,200 euros.

His savings and his family income mean “I can put my channel at stake, firing massive broadsides at YouTube and Google” in the name of a battle for more rights, he says.

“For a lot of my colleagues it’s very different, they’d kill themselves financially if they did that.”

We want to know the rules

YouTube earns money by selling advertising slots before or during videos uploaded by its millions of users, sharing some of the revenue with users whose popular channels have earned them the title of “Partner”.

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Sprave pointed out that in 2012-17, “we were largely free when it came to content, and well paid if we managed to get enough views.”

These days controversial videos, including some of Sprave’s, are shut out from “monetisation” entirely, while all are placed into categories and awarded scores measuring their attractiveness to advertisers, both invisible to creators.

“We insist on transparency. We want to know the rules by which we are being judged,” Sprave fumes, also adding that there is most times no human interlocutor.

Powerful German union IG Metall, already closely following the growing “gig” or “platform” economy of people working for online portals, has joined his battle.

“We don’t just want to stand and watch how the world of work develops, but to shape it ourselves from an early stage,” says IG Metall official Robert Fuss.

Expensive’ for YouTube

Google declined to meet both Sprave and the union officials in October, saying he and his group aren’t representative of YouTubers.

With the intention to step up the pressure, the campaigners launched a mass letter-writing campaign targeting the company’s California headquarters, although there hasn’t been any effect. But they have other plans that may be very expensive to YouTube.

One angle of attack is Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), under which companies must provide users with access to their personal data on pain of massive fines.

That could cover the categories and advertiser scores handed out secretly by YouTube, Sprave and IG Metall believe.

Meanwhile a battle with wider implications could come over the question of “false self-employment”.

IG Metall sees a potential legal case that YouTubers are so closely tied to the platform that they are de facto employees.

A court ruling that this applies to YouTubers would imply a massive financial blow of back payments for social security and pension contributions.

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“There’s a new class of workers who are called ‘self-employed’ entrepreneurs by the platforms, but don’t deal with them like entrepreneurs on a level playing field,” says IG Metall’s Fuss.

“There’s a growing awareness among politicians that people working on digital platforms need protection,” he added, pointing to a recent California law classifying Uber drivers as employees.

Edgy content

But ultimately “we don’t want to be YouTube employees. We want to be treated like partners”, Sprave says.

Google dismisses the prospect of a court case.

A spokesman told AFP that “contrary to what is being claimed, a YouTuber is not YouTube employee by legal status”.

Nevertheless it is taking some pains to coax online creatives towards its vision of YouTube as one revenue stream for them among many.

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