If you watched President Biden’s State of the Union address, you saw Members of Congress giving a standing ovation to former Facebook executive Frances Haugen – “former” being the operative word, as Haugen changed her title from “Product Manager” to “Whistleblower” in late 2021.
In her September 2021 testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Haugen confirmed what those of us in the creative communities already knew: Facebook will always pursue profits and growth above everything else. We face that fact every day in Facebook’s blatant disregard for the widespread piracy of creative works on the platform.
Since 2007, when Facebook introduced its video sharing feature with no plan whatsoever to prevent it from becoming a vessel for piracy, copyright infringement has flourished on the platform.
That was fifteen years ago. Facebook rushed out its video feature with no automated infringement detection tools in place. Facebook had watched YouTube build a wildly successful business based entirely on monetizing copyrighted content (much of it pirated) in the two preceding years, and decided it wanted to stuff its pockets, as well.
Right around that time, YouTube acknowledged that it needed some mechanism to review user generated content for infringements. So, YouTube launched its own content protection tool, Content ID. However, not to put too fine a point on it, it took two years after the platform was founded for this to happen.
It took until 2016 for Facebook to roll out its own content protection tool, Rights Manager – nine years after it introduced videos to Facebook.
The only thing worse than how late the tool was is how ineffective it is.
Indie artist Matthew Buchholz earns a living selling prints of his weird yet charming monster art. As The Verge reported in February, “Buchholz is one of the many small sellers overwhelmed with a flood of knockoff and counterfeit versions of their work appearing for sale online,” including on Facebook.
A few days after the Verge article appeared, Buchholz tweeted, “Today I applied for Facebook’s Rights Manager program, designed to help enforce IP. 31 minutes later I was denied, with no explanation.” This experience is typical of the frustration facing small and independent creatives: “I’ve never, ever been closer to just throwing in the towel and doing something else with my life.”
Buccholz had difficulty even acquiring the tool – and the few who have it are not permitted to say anything about it thanks to Facebook’s demand that users sign non-disclosure agreements… so we’re limited to telling you that we have very good reason to believe it sucks. And if it didn’t suck, maybe they wouldn’t have to hide behind NDAs, anyway.
Facebook remains one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated technology companies, but it took them nine years to develop an anti-infringement “tool” that doesn’t work very well. Meanwhile, the (obscenely rich) executives at Facebook HQ continued making its platform more and more attractive to pirates, launching 4K (2160p) video resolution in fall 2017. Surely, no one has enjoyed that more than the 70,000 members of Movies HD 4K, a pirate Facebook Group created in November 2020 – and still in operation.
It is not difficult to find pirated content on Facebook. Reporters in 2018 saw that the social media platform abounded with popular, easy-to-find Groups devoted to stolen movies and expressly labelled as such. And today, similarly flagrant piracy remains prevalent.
Just enter a Facebook search for “free movies,” and Facebook will helpfully point you to numerous Groups and Pages advertising their plunder. Most of these Groups and Pages have been operating for months or years, right out in the open, attracting tens of thousands of followers.
And it’s not just traditional movies and television shows that Facebook pirates are ripping off. Independent producers of YouTube videos are also victims of Facebook’s indifference.
Ever since Facebook launched video sharing, YouTubers have had to deal with their videos being “freebooted” – ripped and circulated on Facebook without permission, attribution, or advertising revenue. And while Facebook is not directly responsible for posting pirated material, they happily collect ad revenue for ads sold around YouTubers’ popular videos – money that otherwise would have gone to those YouTubers.
Pirate Groups and Pages remain easy to find. Freebooted videos continue to flourish on Facebook. So, not only did Rights Manager arrive far too late – it didn’t even begin to solve Facebook’s piracy problem.
What are they doing over there at Facebook HQ? Really, we’re curious. Because while our creative communities suffer from the widespread piracy happening on Facebook’s watch, it is difficult to imagine Facebook executives doing anything besides laughing and clinking glasses, watching their video views tick up and up, while creatives find it ever more difficult to make a living.
We would ask Facebook to show some effort for once and try to fix the problems with Rights Manager – but does anyone believe they’d care? At all?
So, Facebook, prove us wrong – take a money-counting break and get to work on fixing the problems with Rights Manager. Countless creative livelihoods rely on it.