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The YouTubers Union plays with fire

31 July 2019

YouTube has come in for a lot of flak in recent times for its ever-changing policies, its lack of transparency, its tendency to hide behind automated "bots" and a general lack of empathy for content creators.

In Europe, moves are afoot to take steps to address these issues and a "YouTubers' Union" has been formed on the basis that there is strength in numbers.

Normally I'd dismiss this as just a few people making a lot of noise but in a way that carries very little weight. Whenever people get their noses out of joint over something in the online world there's always a call for petitions and rallying cries to action in Faceboook groups etc. The reality is that these initiatives almost always fizzle into a whole bucket of nothingness.

This time however, things could be a whole lot different.

That's because The YouTuber's Union has joined forces with the biggest labour union in the EU and is now threatening legal action against the video giant.

Lawyers from IG Metall are now working with the YouTubers' Union to prepare court action which, if their demands aren't met, could result in content-creators being declared "employees" rather than independent workers.

If the union was successful in bringing such action, this could result in YouTube being faced with tax and benefits demands amounting to many billions of dollars for amounts not paid over the previous five years.

The man behind all this militant reaction is one Joerg Sprave. He posted this video to YouTube which states the union's position.

Now I'm always keen to "stick it to the man" but I really think that this union has bitten off more than it can chew and is taking a huge risk with the fortunes of its members.

It has been my experience that omnipotent authorities (such as YouTube -- which is answerable only to its shareholders when it comes to policies) are threatened, they often react unpredictably and in unexpected ways.

I would not be at all surprised if YouTube's response to the unon's threats is to just say "Okay, we are ending our partner program in the EU". This would leave the union's members without any revenue from their YouTube channels. All revenue sharing would cease for those who are based in EU countries and that would be a very quick end to YouTube's woes there.

And, to be honest, given the effects of copyright law changes such as Article 13 and Article 17, this might be a blessing to YouTube's attempts to stay out of trouble.

I also think that some of the union's demands are silly and would never be met by YouTube at all so their bluff *will* be called. The cost of dragging a huge multinational through the courts would be an enormous burden, even on an organisation as large as IG Metall. Given that membership of the YouTubers' Union is free, the question will arise as to where the money will come from to cover this action.

So I have to say that I don't have much confidence that this will end well at all.

Never the less, it does show must how outraged people are becoming over YouTube's arrogance and the contempt it shows for its alleged "partners".

To make things worse, YouTube seems to have embarked on a "cleanout" of channels, with huge numbers of content creators discovering that, in the blink of an eye, their channels have been suspended or deleted. Once that happens, the owners of those channels can never start another -- they are effectively barred for life from holding a YouTube account.

This has created an enormous outcry, as many of those who have been deleted claim that they did nothing wrong and that YouTube's algorithm is flawed, false-flagging innocent videos and comments to the extent that years worth of work has disappeared overnight.

It would seem to me that the timing is perfect for a change :-)

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