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Artist RightsIdeas/CommentaryInternet Video

Youtube Continues To Hurt Independent Animators, Bans Award-Winning Animated Short

As the third-most visited website in the United States, Google-owned video platform Youtube is a must for independent filmmakers and animators who wish to have their work publicly visible. However, the company has poorly-regulated policies that are selectively enforced and can often do financial damage to filmmakers, as illustrated in a few recent cases.

Yesterday, Youtube banned the award-winning short film Villa Antropoff on the grounds that it contains “nudity, pornography, or other sexually provocative content.”

The Estonian/Latvian co-production, directed by Vladimir Leschiov and Kaspar Jancis, won an award at the 2012 Krakow Film Festival and was subsuquently nominated at the European Film Awards for best short film. The film, which is as timely today (and possibly moreso) than when it was released five years ago, is a look at post-Communist Europe, juxtaposing the lives of European citizens against the immigrants who aspire to become Europeans.

One of the film production companies that produced the film, Lunohod, shared the message they received from Youtube on their Facebook page, adding that they would not appeal. “What can we say… We are not going to argue with them,” the company wrote. Here is the full text of the message Youtube sent them:

Hi LUNOHOD,

As you may know, our Community Guidelines describe which content we allow – and don’t allow – on YouTube. Your video “Villa Antropoff” was flagged for review. Upon review, we’ve determined that it violates our guidelines. We’ve removed it from YouTube and assigned a Community Guidelines strike, or temporary penalty, to your account.

Video content restrictions

If a video contains nudity, pornography, or other sexually provocative content, it’s less likely to be allowed on YouTube. YouTube reviews content on a case by case basis and will make limited exceptions for appropriate educational, documentary, artistic, and scientific contexts. In such cases, we may apply an age restriction so that only viewers over a certain age can view the content. Learn more here.

The impact of strikes

This is the first strike applied to your account. We understand that users seldom intend to violate our policies. That’s why strikes don’t last forever – this strike will expire in three months. However, it’s important to remember that additional strikes could prevent you from posting content to YouTube or even lead to your account being terminated.

How you can respond

If you believe this was a mistake, we’d like to hear from you. Please follow both of these steps as simply deleting the video won’t resolve the strike on your account. The next time you sign in you will be asked to acknowledge this strike on your account. If you would like to appeal this strike, please submit this form. Our team will thoroughly review your appeal and will contact you again very soon. We value your opinions and feedback. Please take a few minutes to fill out our survey.

Sincerely, 
- The YouTube Team

While Villa Antropoff contains a few short scenes of cartoon nudity, Youtube makes clear exceptions in its policies for works that are presented in “artistic contexts.” The fact that a Youtube employee could have reviewed this film and not recognized the film’s artistic context illustrates a serious breakdown in the company’s ability to police content based on its own policies.

Youtube indeed has a category for age-restricted content that would have allowed this film to remain online. “In cases where videos do not cross the line, but still contain sexual content, we may apply an age-restriction so that only viewers over a certain age can view the content,” the company writes in its policy guide, adding that “Videos containing nudity or dramatized sexual conduct may be age-restricted when the context is appropriately educational, documentary, scientific or artistic.”

In another recent instance, Kirsten Lepore’s smash-hit Hi Stranger was deemed by Youtube employees to contain adult-content and was slapped with an “age-restricted tag” on the video.

However, there are dozens of other copies of Lepore’s film floating around Youtube that do not have the age-restricted tag. Since Youtube’s algorithms prioritize “safe” content over age-restricted content, the unauthorized uploads of Lepore’s film that haven’t been hit with the age-restricted tag appear above her official copy on the site’s search results. Youtube’s parent company, Google, applies this same policy to its own Google Search results.

Further, since age-restricted videos cannot be monetized with ads, Lepore has been unable to earn any income from Youtube with her film. But she discovered that some unauthorized uploads of her film, which hadn’t been marked with the age-restricted tag, were enabling ads and monetizing her film.

“Since their uploads haven’t been flagged, they’re able to make ad money off my video which I think is completely unfair,” Lepore tells Cartoon Brew. “I’ve either messaged those people, issued takedowns, or just flagged them for nudity myself so they couldn’t make money like me.”

While the simplest answer would be to simply advise animation filmmakers to share their work on other web video platforms, that is not a long-term solution nor does it benefit filmmakers. The relatively filmmaker-friendly Vimeo, for example, is the 92nd most-visited website in the U.S. compared to Youtube’s #3 position. The eyeballs are on Youtube, and the company should increase its efforts to understand and engage with the creative community, especially since it relies so heavily on their content for its success.

(h/t, Zippy Frames for alerting us to the story)

  • YouTube has been aggressive in penalizing creatives, to the point where the successful creatives are unable to monetize.

    Advertisers have been very vocal of leaving YouTube due to some controversial content on the bigger channels, to where YouTube is demanding that now all content be friendly enough for 5 year olds (or to face consequences).

    This is a huge problem for creatives and their audiences, as YouTube allowed the creatives (animation, live action) to be expressive and creative as they see fit. Rather than tackling the real problem creators on their website, they have been going full force (unfairly).

    YouTube needs to have a more concrete set of guidelines so that everyone will understand and allow them to adjust. But since they’re not doing that, and not being consistent in enforcing, it really makes the website a huge hypocrite.

  • George

    Appeal. They’ll fix it. Duh.

  • vince

    Appeal! nobody from YouTube has even seen the movie — some person out there clicked the “report” button and you got an automatic warning. Tell them that it is not pornography – it is just a cartoon. Then somebody from YouTube will actually look at it and see what you mean — after that you can put it back up……….

    • Dusty Ayres

      Said ‘some person’ being some adult who can’t stand any animation that isn’t ‘kid friendly’, no doubt. This is the same bullcaca that’s happened to an episode of Maya The Bee on Netflix, with somebody being pissed off over seeing a penis on screen.

      As I may have said before, this is why I’m glad that traditional Saturday morning blocs on TV are gone in (North) America-this ban of this short shows why.

  • Carl

    I agree that this video is very, very creative, but I think it needs to be rated so parents can choose if they don’t want their children to see the adult content in this.

    And don’t worry everyone. YouTube is the biggest video-sharing site at the current moment, but there are thousands out there. You don’t even need to hop in your car to drive to another theater…you just click another site. That’s the great thing about the internet. If you don’t like something, you can just go somewhere else by lifting your finger…almost instantly. YouTube understands traffic metrics showing people leaving the site a whole lot more than people writing letters.

    • Dusty Ayres

      As somebody else said, the other video sites are not as popular as YouTube, so going to them won’t work. And where else are people going to show their short films?

  • Troy

    “Since their uploads haven’t been flagged, they’re able to make ad money off my video which I think is completely unfair,” Lepore tells Cartoon Brew. “I’ve either messaged those people, issued takedowns, or just flagged them for nudity myself so they couldn’t make money like me.”

    For the readers of Cartoon Brew, I don’t have to obviously state the issue about youtube’s policy in regards to independent animation filmmakers that disproportionally impacted them, as this has been repeatedly been an issue. The age restriction is pretty much a step below the copyright infringement issue.

    Personally, the filmmakers have the decision to show their films on the internet, knowing in doing so they will have to deal with theft in all shape and form, while having the burden of being the “unknown”. This is pretty much a lite Catch 22 as there are different avenues of distributing, but expecting newcomers or not well-known animators to know the information is unrealistic if their nature is secluded.