By Justin Sanders
It was a dark and stormy night when the online forum r/nosleep closed its doors to the general public.
The horror story-themed Reddit forum (known as a “subreddit”) had built a massive following by curating some of the scariest tales on the internet. Its authors had a gift for the spine-tingling detail you just can’t shake – they were so good, in fact, they would never dream of starting a story with a cliché like, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Yes, with nothing more than words on a screen, these authors could summon scares like magicians do rabbits, and yet they themselves were haunted… by a fiend that torments all creatives on the internet.
We speak, with dread in our hearts, of PIRACY!
Online piracy is a monster looking to devour all creative content, even when posted for free. Contributors to r/nosleep willingly offered their gut-wrenching works without expectation of payment, but that didn’t stop a faction of the forum’s subscriber base from taking many of the stories and using them without permission anyway. On many occasions, these thieves would profit from the stolen tales, narrating them in videos posted to YouTube, and collecting advertising revenue.
Understandably concerned by the rampant pilfering of their work, r/nosleep moderators fought back. They established another subreddit, r/NoSleepWritersGuild, devoted to helping their authors license and sell their stories, and educating them about their legal rights when stories were being stolen.
“There is a HUGE misunderstanding about free-to-read content,” states the introductory post on r/NoSleepWritersGuild, which reads like a very satisfying pro-copyright blog in its own right. “You are the legal owner of your content from the moment it’s published… and that includes publishing to an online site like Reddit. That means no one has the legal right to use, adapt, reproduce, or host your content—for free, or commercial use—without your permission. Yes, even non-monetized uses require your permission… Yes, even on Reddit.”
But that was only the beginning of r/nosleep’s pro-copyright vengeance.
They established another subreddit, r/SleeplessWatchdogs, which features a blacklist of all Reddit users known to have purloined writings from r/nosleep and other Reddit author forums and used them elsewhere without permission.
And then, in March, realizing that they were dealing with a “culture of free” that would lead to continued abuses by the pirates (a culture nurtured by the world’s biggest internet companies and their advocates, by the way) – r/nosleep took their most drastic step yet.
They went dark.
“In a move to support our authors, r/nosleep has been set to private to protest content theft and unfair crediting and compensation practices by those who share/narrate the stories found here,” the forum’s moderators wrote. “This is being done… to make a very important point: if the authors are not treated fairly and their work is continuously used in ways that break copyright laws, they will stop posting here.”
The closure was short-lived. The forum has since returned and is public again, but the actions by its moderators to protect their authors taught some important lessons. In an era of rampant piracy enabled by internet platforms that fail to be accountable for it, these moderators had only one recourse: to band together and resist on their own terms..
But they shouldn’t have had to do any of it.
The creatives of r/nosleep should not have to waste time chasing after infringement of content they are offering for free. That task should have fallen solely on Reddit. r/nosleep pulls in nearly 14 million users to the site, and the writers who post on the forum do not make a dime. But guess who does? You’re right, Reddit does – by slipping ads into the mix just like YouTube and other free-to-use platforms.
But unlike YouTube, Reddit does not allow their users to monetize subreddits and share in the proceeds. All the money goes right to Reddit. Which begs the question: If your platform is profiting, why aren’t you responsible?
Since they won’t provide compensation to their creatives, isn’t protecting one of their most popular, and lucrative, forums from piracy the least that Reddit could do?
Maybe Reddit had a strategic reason to let the creatives of r/nosleep fend for themselves. Maybe Reddit decided that to acknowledge one forum where piracy is rampant would be to acknowledge all of them. r/nosleep is only the tip of the iceberg of piracy that has been made possible by Reddit users, from rampant illegal live sports streamingto file-sharing via applications such as Plex. Then again, this look-the-other-way strategy is par for the course for internet companies who have no incentive, legal or otherwise, to be accountable.
Maybe the real, bottom-line reason Reddit won’t help is because they don’t have to.
In any case, as inspiring as the actions of the r/nosleep “anti-piracy taskforce” have been, they may be addressing their concerns to the wrong audience.
“We hope that, during our time away, our community will do their best to learn and understand our authors’ rights and what they have gone through to exercise and protect them,” r/nosleep wrote during their temporary blackout.
To put it bluntly, r/nosleep, they will not. So long as the internet platforms do nothing to fix the stealing on their platforms, certain members of the user community will continue to steal. It is simply human nature.
The people who need to “learn and understand” are not Reddit’s readers, but Reddit’s owners. The next time r/nosleep moderators have an inkling to encourage their authors to “stop posting here,” they should follow through with it.
Great horror content will play anywhere. If r/nosleep really wants to scare someone, they should start with Reddit – by taking their revenue-generating content back into the darkness… and keeping it there.