Copyright, YouTube and the BookTube Community: How YouTube avoided and is now dealing with Copyright Infringements

“New technologies have not only shifted how money is made but also who benefits and how those benefits flow through to creators and rights holders.”[1]


The Government of Canada describes copyright as “‘the right to copy’ […] the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form. It includes the right to perform the work.”[2] While copyright laws are constantly being changed, the emergence of the internet has stirred up many challenges for both fair use/fair dealing and creator rights. The growth of “new technologies have not only shifted how money is made but also who benefits and how those benefits flow through to creators and rights holders.”[3] YouTube the $165 billion dollar video-sharing/hosting platform[4] was created in order to share content around the world. YouTube’s founders state that the idea for the platform came to them in 2004 after Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl costume incident[5]. Thus, YouTube from its creation was not concerned with copyright or the legalities of sharing pre-existing content without the creator’s consent.Over the last few years, however, YouTube has increasingly worked against its users in favor of copyright laws.

“With over one billion users watching over one billion hours of video every day, it is the second most popular site on the Internet, behind Google [YouTube’s parent company since 2006] and just ahead of Facebook.”[6] What makes YouTube unique is its user-generated content, from its founding in 2005, YouTube has relied on its users to upload videos. In its early years YouTube was the place for users to share all TV show and movie clips, music videos and more, however, over the last decade the issue of copyright infringements have changed the way the platform is used. The platform has grown into a community, its users have been labeled YouTubers by fans and creators by YouTube itself, its content has evolved from existing content to original content, such as vlogs (video-blogs), short original films, as well as reviews. With the overwhelming success of original content on the platform one would assume that YouTube’s integration of copyright laws would not affect very much, however, many if not most of YouTube’s biggest channels and creators were hit with legal complaints in connection to copyright.

YouTube is known for having many sub-genres, one in particular is the BookTube community, which encapsulates creators and channels revolving around books. While the majority of copyright issues derive from music content being used, the BookTube community has had its fair share of copyright infringement issues. Many BookTube creators post book reviews, bookshelf tours, to be read lists (TBR), discussions, etc. While most of these creators and videos do not infringe on copyright, the BookTube community has been known for making videos in which they read books in their entirety for their viewers. Although the concept of copyright has been around since 1662, YouTube only considered its platforms use of content years after its creation due to an overwhelming amount of backlash from artists. Therefore certain YouTube users were able to get away with using other’s creative works without issue. One of the most notable examples of this is Alex Day, a YouTuber and musician from the UK[7]. Alex Day reached a massive level of success on YouTube at a young age through a video series he posted on his YouTube channel “nerimon”, entitled “Alex Reads Twilight”. As the title indicates, the videos consist of Alex standing in front of a camera reading the entirety of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight directly from the book. While some say he added some comedic commentary and others, such as The Baltimore Sun mentioned that his videos “eviscerates [the] beloved”[8] YA phenomenon. When the videos were first posted, YouTube had “its own business ecosystem, [thus, it] also had […]its own legal system”[9] in which copyright was not mentioned. This allowed Alex and many others to YouTube creators to not only manipulate existing creative works for their own use without consent from the original creator, but to also gain overwhelming success. As of 2007 YouTube creators were given the possibility of monetizing their channels and videos, although I would have assumed that at this point copyright laws would be very important to the platform, it wasn’t until years later that the platform began dealing with their content’s obvious copyright violations. Therefore, the platform’s creators such as Alex were not only using other people’s creative work for fame but also for a potential profit.

It is only in the later half of the 2010s that the platform announced copyright as an unavoidable issue – “YouTube receives lots of takedown requests under copyright law asking us to remove videos that copyright owners say are infringing”[10]. YouTube’s legal system is the main factor in the switch in the platform’s content. Although there were copyright issues prior to this,  it is only in 2013 that YouTube launched their Content ID tool to automatically warn platform users of copyrighted materials[11]. Prior to 2013, YouTube had no policies in play concerning copyright. Therefore, the platform was allowing its users to make a profit off of other people’s creative works, with no mandatory credit being given to the original creator, let alone compensation for its use. In fact, from its start, YouTube was a host platform used to share existing content, it was through its popularity that users began editing and playing with this pre-existing content for entertainment value. Although Alex Day’s original Twilight videos are no longer on the video-sharing platform, with a quick search a shortened compilation of the videos does still exist on YouTube. Day was seemingly never questioned or fined for the blatant copyright infringements, in fact, they were removed years after their initial publication on his channel. In situations such as Alex Day’s videos, he was allowed and praised for reading and in many ways mocking Stephenie Meyer’s work without her knowledge or consent. Not only does this ignore any copyright infringements committed by Alex but it also potentially harms the way his viewers are interacting with Meyer’s text, whether they go on to read it or not.

In 2013 when YouTube finally made policies concerning copyright it was immediately hit with speculation from its users and creators. At this point YouTube was no longer solely a fun pastime for its users, for many as of 2007’s monetization launch the platform became their livelihood. Creators were left wondering if it was not an issue years earlier why has it suddenly become a problem? More specifically why after so many years do they need to be careful about their content in able to ensure they would not be demonetized. There was also the question of if it has suddenly become an issue why not apply all the new policies on videos from that day forward rather than attempting to sort through the millions of videos previously posted? For many it was the demonetization of past videos that affected them the most, they could implement changes to future videos but the platform does not allow users to edit their past videos without completely removing them and starting from scratch. From 2013 to present YouTube is struggling to create algorithms that work for both copyright laws and their own creators. By choosing to add copyright protocols to their policies, YouTube has changed the content that is being published on their platform.

After YouTube’s implementation of copyright policies the BookTube community has evolved. While many of their videos were not affected, creators are no longer able to read entire texts. That being said YouTube channel such as “Brightly Storytime”[12] and “KidTimeStoryTime”[13] manage to be very successful BookTube channels that do exactly that. While both channels consist of read-along videos, in which children’s books are read aloud while simultaneously being flipped through, they do not challenge the copyright policies. Both channels have gained approval from the text’s creators,“Brightly Storytime” is in partnership with Penguin Random House thus, they are able to publish videos about Dr.Seuss’ “The Lorax” because Penguin Random House has access to those rights. “KidTimeStoryTime” uses a different approach, they ask authors and publishers to contact them, thus creating a relationship and agreement with the content’s owner. Although they are technically using the same kind of videos that past YouTubers such as Alex Day used to post, they have found a way to work within the parameters of YouTube’s new copyright policies.

YouTube as a platform has changed over the years, while it began with the simple focus of creating a way to share videos world-wide, similarly to google images. The platform has been forced to change in order to align its policies to those of the majority of countries. In making changes to its policies, copyright having the largest impact on its users, YouTube has inevitably changed what is available, and how it is used.  The YouTube community as a whole have many mixed feelings about the new policies and in which direction such changes will lead them.

Although these changes should be viewed positively as it aligns them with the views of the law, it is still uncertain how negative the effects will be on the platform as a business.

[1] Dabrusin, Julie. Shifting Paradigms: Report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Ottawa: House of Commons Canada, 2019.

[2] Intellectual Property Office. “A Guide to Copyright.” Government of Canada, August 27, 2019.

[3] Dabrusin, Julie. Shifting Paradigms: Report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Ottawa: House of Commons Canada, 2019.

[4] “YouTube.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, October 26, 2019.

[5] Ibid

[6] Bailey, Jonathan. “How Copyright Law Works for YouTube.” Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter 21, no. 4 (2017): 5-7.

[7] “Alex Day.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, October 23, 2019.

[8] Knight, Nancy. “Alex Reads Twilight — so You Don’t Have To.” The Baltimore Sun, June 8, 2018.

[9] Bailey, Jonathan. “How Copyright Law Works for YouTube.” Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter 21, no. 4 (2017): 5-7.

[10] “Copyright on YouTube.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d.

[11] “YouTube Copyright Issues.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, September 16, 2019.

[12] “Brightly Storytime.” YouTube. YouTube, March 1, 2016.

[13] “KidTimeStoryTime.” YouTube. YouTube. Accessed January 24, 2015.

One Response to Copyright, YouTube and the BookTube Community: How YouTube avoided and is now dealing with Copyright Infringements

  1. emilyh says:

    Really interesting piece on how YouTube has changed, and how its policies change frequently which in turn causes the way content is delivered to be modified by creators as well. So many people rely on YouTube advertising money for their livelihood, and a simple change of terms of service can be disruptive to their lives in a huge way. Your example of how “KidTimeStoryTime” works with publishers is a great example of how creators can bypass copyright take-down rules by establishing good relationships with authors and their representatives. I have heard of examples where YouTube will blacklist entire videos based on auto-detected copyright infringement, which must be frustrating if you have an existing agreement in place. Great read, thanks!!

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