Illegally distributing viral video on social media

I shot my first viral video in 2013. While at a horse show where my wife was competing, I caught my father-in-law in an acrobatic act with his horse. Within a day, the video was trending on YouTube. It was picked up by Right This Minute. Then by The Situation Room with Wolfe Blitzer. And then by Good Morning America. 

Today I learned that the video has gone viral again! The epicenter was a French equestrian tack startup which downloaded the video (probably from YouTube), uploaded it to Facebook, and shared.

I understand the motivation for this kind of social media behavior, and also the fact that it was likely unmotivated by malice. I understand that it is easier to share high quality content than to create it. I also understand that people do not understand copyright law. Copyright is hard. If copyright was easy we wouldn’t need lawyers for that. I adopt the Platonic position that people don’t do what they know is wrong. The problem, then, is not a problem of ethics, but a problem of knowledge.

So what is wrong with uploading someone else’s content to your social media page? The problem is that this is theft. It is theft of intellectual property, most certainly, but it is also theft of an audience, and an audience is worth its weight in gold. There was an attempt to give credit (“credit: wallaceeventing”) but this ‘credit’ in no way actually connected the content with the content producer. In fact there is very little chance that I would ever have learned of this theft if the video has not exploded all over the internet…again. Proper etiquette dictates that you share rather than steal. It is also best to ‘mention’ the content owner, not only to notify them of the fact that you have shared their content (an indirect kind of ‘thank you’), but also to provide a direct link for the audience, between the content you are sharing and the person who produced it. Through sharing and mentioning, everybody wins. You introduce a content creator to a new audience, while at the same time growing your own audience on account of your reputation as a content curator worth following. By scabbing content and re-uploading, you take more credit than is your due and, what is worse, you hoard it entirely to yourself.

I am very torn about this incident. On the one hand, I am happy that content that I created three years ago continues to be engaging and relevant (despite the fact that I did some crazy stuff with color, and totally overdid the vignette…I was new to Final Cut…so it goes). It is wonderful to have an audience, and to have one’s work shared with the greatest number of people. Because I applied a watermark throughout the video (a practice that I have since stopped because it is visually unappealing, but that I am now reconsidering) and included credits at the end, it is possible that exceptionally curious viewers willing to take the effort might discover Wallace Eventing as a result. On the other hand, what has happened is tantamount to plagiarism because it denies credit in a way that could easily be granted. In other words, I feel robbed.

What would you do in this case and others like it? Would you submit a claim and have the video taken down? Or would you let it go and leave it to karma to sort it out? Something else?

April 2, 2016 – After reaching out to the company in a spirit of understanding and generosity, they apologized for their mistake, took the video down, and committed to sharing the original instead. This is another lesson. One’s first impulse in these situations is to lash out in anger, point fingers, and make threats. But if you begin with a principle of charity, then you stand a greater chance of seeing a quick resolution, while also creating an opportunity for relationship. The company is making a move into North America, and we are now talking about sponsorship possibilities.

Also published on Medium.