Monday, 5 October 2015

3. Sabotage on YouTube

For many weeks I have not blogged, as we have all been very busy dealing with the sabotage of our Channel(s) on YouTube. Yes, so maybe this tale is worth waiting for. There were a lot of things we did not know when we started the web series, and one is that there is a weekly world chart. A dedicated team based in New York compiles the chart. The main review site is called WE LOVE SOAPS and for nearly 10 years they have followed and supported non-broadcast series with a sister site called INDIE SERIES NETWORK. Despite us having no knowledge of the chart, Shades Of Bad charted with an early episode and has remained in the chart ever since. We have hit the top three a few times and Jean Heard who plays Doris has hit the number one actress spot. Our combined channels had nearly 1 million views on YouTube and Shades Of Bad gained 7000 views in less than two months.

Shades Of Bad agreed to join Disney’s Maker Studios as a label manager and start to build a proper Web TV channel. Just as Shades Of Bad escalated our whole YouTube Shades Of Bad was suspended, that means taken down - deleted. The Channel and all it’s managers, which included me were issued with a lifetime ban from uploading to YouTube or creating other channels. One by one all my Google plus pages and YouTube channels came down, from the innocent Scarlet Tunic and the children’s site Usual Children through to Bula Quo and Freight. 

I need to say here that my channels and I are not new to violations, we have had many. When you make product that you then license to the majors, the copyright spiders will challenge you even when you are supposed to be ‘white listed’. By example I will explain; we had a recent violation warning on a Bula Quo clip that had been live for about three years. Two claimants, Universal UK and Constantin, asked YouTube to imposed a world ban on my clip. There is a system to appeal, which we know it well. We appealed that clip; I explained that I, as the copyright holder and creator of the film, I had licensed it to Universal for the UK and Australia only and to Constantin for Germany only. I explained neither could impose a world bad. Nor as licensees did they hold the copyright, I did, they just had a limited license to use it. That violation was overturned in my favour, then another violation came up on another clip, the Bula Quo Kava clip. It was still in place at the time of the suspension and I had just contacted the legal divisions of both companies.

Anyone who runs a Film or TV company, however small is busy enough, but our YouTube suspension meant every video profile for every strand of every film we had ever made was being suspended one by one by association. There was no reason, no warning, no recourse to this suspension. We were in shock. We ran an appeal through the YouTube system and had a fairly quick reply, which said the suspension was upheld and there is a policy to not reinstate suspended channels.

We contacted all the companies we license to asking them to ensure that we were white listed, but that was not the cause. It may have been the history as a repeat offender that stopped immediate re-instatement, but it was not the cause.

As it looked like the end of our life on YouTube (YouTube were insisting this) we had to first turn elsewhere. We uploaded the current episode of Shades Of Bad on our sparsely populated Shades Of Bad Vimeo Channel to ensure we still released one episode a week as promised. Then all the episodes released so far were uploaded to our Daily Motion channel, which had only a couple of episodes posted to date.  But each film in vision referred to the YouTube channel, which meant each film had to be changed and reloaded.
The priority was to establish the complete works on Daily Motion and make that our new Channel. Then we had to go through all our blogs and postings, Facebook and Tweets, and all the pages of our web site and delete all LINKS and references to our now defunct YouTube Channel and films. There were over 300 links and our web site architecture on the video pages did not support Daily Motion, so we had to learn some additional coding to place badges and carousels.

As all of this work went on we keenly communicated to our viewers and fans of the show in every way we could; blogged and tweeted that we had moved to Daily Motion. We informed third party sites that referenced our old YouTube links like Indie Series Network and web series listings. Multiple layers of jobs took every waking hour, and there was little sleep as well as continuing to approach YouTube to try and find out the reason for the suspension.

The suspension and appeal just met with the answer that we should have been sent emails, notifications before suspension and there were web links to explain why in general channels are suspended. The violation rules were broad and without very much actual detail on yardstick examples but the strangeness was that we had no warnings. It was looking suspicious as well as annoying. As we looked for answers our other YouTube channels or Google+ page were being taken down. We even tried to migrate channels away to new owners but they were found and fell. We took out links placed on Google plus, but they were still connected. No clever moves were helping. Everything we had was interconnected as Google plus had suggested, everything had an association and everything was going to fall. I even had a fan Google+ page for my daughter Laura Aikman which just playlisted all the many fan films and showreels people had posted, and that went down. Had she been a manager of that site, she would also have been banned. Just how extensive this is, is worrying.

We eventually told by a YouTube helpline in the USA via a co producer partner there who managed to get through to another level of help, that yes, they would all come down. So we watched months of work and interlinking all fall. It made us realise how dependent we had made our selves on a single third party platform over which we had no control and little chance to communicate.

Approaching YouTube via the on line appeal process the help line kept referring us to for suspended sites no longer worked for us. It appeared to suggest the email address was no longer valid after the first appeal was refused. We tried through other email addresses but they had no complaint to appeal to so would not accept an appeal. The help lines just informed us of process and confirmed everything will eventually fall, the computer would find everything that was connected.

Spamming. We scratched our heads for reasons. We had been tweeting, as marketing, but not excessively. We had made an internal decision not to market the series until season two in the fall and establish ourselves with Maker Studios first. We knew we had linked Google to Facebook and Google plus and YouTube, so it was possible YouTube might monitor our traffic and might have considered we were spamming, but surely not on the low traffic.

Multiple uploads. We had also, up to about episode 10 or so, been putting up three versions of each film, one English, one with Russian sub titles and one with Norwegian sub titles. Technically this is not allowed and there is a sub title facility within YouTube. We had noticed this mistake and just stopped that multiple upload. Surely that was not the violation, but maybe a computer would think it continued abuse.

Metadata. We had also used meta data TV and film titles which they may have thought we had no right to, but they were shows that either I or the cast had been associated with. Using other people’s shows to try and draw attention to your site is a violation.

Copyright. Maker Studios managed to first establish that episode 8 was the violation. They viewed it and could find nothing wrong, other than they asked if we totally owned it as it looked like a show made for TV. Surely we were not banned for being too professional. We explained our background and that was cleared up and passed up line to YouTube. But they did not budge on the suspension.

Content. We were at a loss how the content thus far was strong enough to cause a violation. There is no doubt some people might find Shades Of Bad offensive if they didn’t get it, it was very dark humour, very edgy and a touch political in that it is aimed at showing people just how they had come to accept crime. That aside, with harsher episodes due we made a decision to go 18+ on every episode from number 7. Shades Of Bad was not meant for children and they would not understand the innuendo.

All films on Daily Motion were marked adult viewing and a warning was added to the front and YouTube references removed.

Eventually we got through to YouTube with the help of Maker Studios whom we had just partnered with. After calls to YouTube USA we found that we had had only 3 complaints, they all arrived at the same time, and all about one film. As such the system takes the channel down before the violation emails can be sent.

We never had any other complaints or violations. By having three at once, the system took the channel down before it could email us which the problem on the episode which was episode 8. Eventually it became obvious we had not violated any terms, that there was nothing wrong with episode 8 and we were re-instated, but it took just over three weeks. We lost pace and viewers and still did not figure when searching. We deleted some old films from before we started and started to climb again.

On the good side we are now on multiple channels, the platforms, the sites and web site went through an overhaul, and we have learnt more about marketing. It did slow us down, but there are hackers out there so beware. Or maybe your competition will take you down. Your whole business can be taken down from any platform for violation of their rules, and computer makes that choice with very little human touch other than those who complain and possibly in an organised manner. Read the rules and use more than one platform.

Now some 4 weeks later we will start to get back to where we were. To start thinking about sub titles again, and to understand Maker Studios more and combine our works into one web TV channel.