Fairfax and content theft

There’s a heart-warming tale currently running on smh.com.au about a bunch of (presumably) hard-up actors who’ve hit the YouTube jackpot.

So it’s a shame that Fairfax appears to be stealing from them.  

The SMH story tells how the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York put together a very funny video about the oil spill. The troupe plays a group of BP execs unable to clear up a simple spilt cup of coffee and going to increasingly inept and panicky lengths.

You can see it here:

Funny, isn’t it?

And did you see what I did there? I embedded it from YouTube.

You probably (although you won’t every time)  saw an overlaid ad appear on the video.

That’s because UCB Comedy has its own YouTube channel, and they’ve enabled revenue sharing on the video.

That means that they get to share the revenue with YouTube when advertisers pay to appear.

Considering the video has already had more than 7m views, and improv troupes aren’t famous for being rich, I suspect it’s a big deal to them.

It’s an example of the new digital economy – the popularity and therefore commercial success of the video will no doubt make it easier for them to go on creating new work. When the YouTube content is embedded on other sites, it’s a benevolent little ecosystem – the site gets free content, YouTube gets revenue and the creator gets revenue.

smh_BP_spills_coffeeSo it’s a shame that Fairfax Digital’s answer to this is the sort of thing that gives traditional outlets a bad name – lifting the content.

They’ve downloaded the video and are now playing – indeed, Fairfax being Fairfax, autoplaying – the skit out of the Fairfax Media player. They’ve even stuck a Fairfax Digital watermark over it.

So the only ad you see is the one that Fairfax chooses to play, which happened to be for Kia when I watched. I wonder how they feel as a brand about being associated with stolen property?

When I looked at it on Friday evening, it was the most popular video in the smh.com.au’s technology section. That’ll be quite a few views.

I wonder how much the UCB will be getting from Fairfax for this? Nothing, would be my bet.

There is, I suspect, a flimsy copyright law-based argument that a news outlet is entitled to use clips of content created by others for the purpose of review or telling the story.

Even if it has some legal weight – and I suspect this bends a “fair use” defence so far it would need a remarkably good lawyer to argue in its favour – there’s little moral justification.

As I demonstrate above, it’s easy to embed YouTube videos on any site. So there’s no need for Fairfax to pull it into its own player, except to take all of the video ad revenue for itself.

YouTube’s terms of use include the condition that “You agree not to distribute in any medium any part of the Service or the Content without YouTube’s prior written authorization, unless YouTube makes available the means for such distribution through functionality offered by the Service (such as the Embeddable Player).” A further condition is that “You agree not to alter or modify any part of the Service.” Like sticking the Fairfax Media watermark over it, for instance.

smh_youtube_downfall_ruddYet it’s becoming something of a habit.

A Kevin Rudd remix of the trust Downfall meme has been sucked into the Fairfax video player, again with the YouTube watermark all over it. On Friday night it was the top story on the SMH home page.

So the BP video is not simply a one-off mistake by an inexperienced journalist.

Again you can still see the original on YouTube.

It’s a pity because one of the areas where Fairfax is innovating is around online video. That’s good for the whole industry.

There’s suddenly a race to generate enough video content to keep up with advertiser demand for pre-roll ads. That’s good for independent video creators.

Piracy is not.

(2.30pm Update: Since we published this article three hours ago, the Fairfax Media video player has been removed from the BP story and the Kevin Rudd Downfall video has also been taken down and replaced with actual SMH-produced content. However, for a further example of content lifted from YouTube, see the SMH’s article on Stephen Conroy and the filter which includes a borrowed parody video created by Kogan.)

3.10pm update: I’ve now had the following response from Fairfax Media:

Hi Tim

Firstly, thanks for the article today and the comments raised around Fairfax usage of YouTube clips across its sites.

As you are aware, the principle of fair use is important to all media companies. However, it is not Fairfax’s intention to deny the content potential of rights holders. We are looking into the use of the clips referred to in your article, as well as ensuring our content usage policies are consistently applied.

In the meantime, we’ve changed the clips noted above to make use of the embedded YouTube player.

Thanks again for raising these issues, which I’m happy to say, are now working its way towards a resolution that provides a fair deal for all.


Ricky Sutton, Head of Video, Fairfax Digital

Tim Burrowes

(Fairfax Media has been invited to comment)


  1. Adrian
    28 Jun 10
    11:29 am

  2. Anyone else notice the irony in this article, considering the fact that there is a 728×90, a 300×250 and a “Supported by adshell, mumbrella media metrics masterclass” banner in this article?

    So Mumbrella has in total 3 ad units generating impressions while fairfax had 1?

    The question is how much is UCB getting from Mumbrella for this?

    Do you have the answer Tim?

  3. mumbrella
    28 Jun 10
    11:37 am

  4. Hi Adrian,

    You’ve missed the point somewhat.

    By embedding the video from YouTube, people who choose to play it will sometimes see overlaid ads. UCB and YouTube share that revenue.

    That’s one reason why YouTube allows embedding.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  5. alastair
    28 Jun 10
    11:39 am

  6. What a crock Adrian. You know very well that that is part of the youtube ecosystem – and that embedding content on pages with adverrts in them is perfectly in accordance with the rules of youtube.

    Do you by some chance either work for Fairfax or a firm of shills shilling for Fairfax?


  7. mumbrella
    28 Jun 10
    11:44 am

  8. If you follow the link above, Adrian, the third bullet point of 4D is the relevant one.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  9. brendan
    28 Jun 10
    11:48 am

  10. I think this is worth looking into further.

    Actually, (same same but different) piracy is rife within media outlets today… they freely pirate material using torrents or otherwise – often putting that media to air, when their standard feeds of media fail. For those creating this media, it is the only way they can get the content quick enough to do their jobs as required.

    Discuss. :)

  11. Ben
    28 Jun 10
    12:01 pm

  12. More evidence Fairfax’s video strategy is a complete joke.

  13. anon1
    28 Jun 10
    12:31 pm

  14. To prevent the shitty autostarting videos, remove:


    from the Fairfax links, which generally look something like:


    You only need up to the .html part.

    Some geek genius could probably write a Firefox or Chrome plug-in that would automatically take the autoplay link out of all Fairfax links.

  15. Nate
    28 Jun 10
    12:39 pm

  16. “I wonder how much the UCB will be getting from Fairfax for this? Nothing, would be my bet.”

    Good question… did you ASK them?

    Surely it’s not completely out of the question that Fairfax (evil C*&NTS though they are) MAY have actually paid for it? At least you could have ASKED before ASSUMING and calling them thieves.

  17. OtherAndrew
    28 Jun 10
    12:39 pm

  18. Nice work holding them to account, Tim.

    I’d actually been quite impressed with SMH’s adoption of the ‘Choose which ad you’d like to watch’ idea, rather than auto-run pre-rolls… the only problem is it seems to have been stuck with the same 3 ads for the past fortnight, and I’ve seen them all. However, it’s a bit rich when they are fleecing the videos from elsewhere and depriving those people of ad revenue, an idea that hadn’t occurred to me previously.

  19. Rei
    28 Jun 10
    12:41 pm

  20. TBH, i don’t care.

    But Fairfax have a serious problem if they’re ever considering charges for content.
    No readers + “borrowed” material means you should sell your shares now, if you still have any.

  21. Riarn
    28 Jun 10
    12:43 pm

  22. There should be a happy medium. Where its obvious that Fairfax is trying to ‘own’ this content (the watermark gives that away), and that they are getting the benefit of the preroll advertising and revenue, and pretty much stealing this content. There is something to be said about youtube embedded videos. Particularly when it is Fairfax helping to promote the video in Australia.

    I happened to have seen this video before it went to smh.com.au, but i would wager that a lot found it there, not youtube. Therefore since youtube embedded video allows links outside of the site you found it on (if you wait till the end of the video) then those readers sent viral links wouldnt be directed to fairfax.

    I have no answer to this

  23. James C
    28 Jun 10
    12:44 pm

  24. On a random tangent. Does it piss anyone else off when the SMH video player autoplays after 5 seconds and you have to click to STOP it load?

  25. mumbrella
    28 Jun 10
    1:00 pm

  26. Hi Nate,

    Yes I did – no response from Fairfax as yet.

    But I have established that there is no content sharing deal in place with YouTube.


    Tim – Mumbrella.

  27. Corner Boy
    28 Jun 10
    1:12 pm

  28. Fairfax Digital is out of order, based on the facts above. They should know better. Well spotted, Tim.

    Is it just me, or is that BP spoof thing actually really shit? I thought it was anyway. BPGlobalPR is streets ahead on this one – especially the ‘anonmymous’ video interview from a few weeks ago.

    That improv crew’s effort shows that even mediocre content, when alligned to a massive event, can piggy back to an incredible extent.

  29. Bob
    28 Jun 10
    1:24 pm

  30. I am not 100% sure, but you will most likely find that the Fairfax publications use a CMS which does not allow them to embed videos from Youtube, Vimeo, etc, and only has the ability to run video loaded & run by their own video player.

  31. Ben
    28 Jun 10
    1:41 pm

  32. James, install this Greasemonkey script http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/65665 and your problems will be solved.

  33. Anon
    28 Jun 10
    1:45 pm

  34. And I think it is equally amazing that not one piece of Fairfax content has ever been misappropriated (either for profit or not) online. Maybe they have decided that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. And no – I don’t work for Fairfax or any other publisher.

  35. Grant H
    28 Jun 10
    1:48 pm

  36. Who is in charge of their video practices?

    I click to read an article, I am then informed a video will auto play, it does, then I am prompted to choose an ad, i dont care what ad plays, i choose one, the ad is then played, then a watermarked youtube clip is played in their player.

    Wait, what? Why was I there in the first place?

    Oh that’s right… to read an article :)

  37. James D
    28 Jun 10
    1:49 pm

  38. It looks like they’ve pulled the video now as the article is only showing an image from the video. They also are now linking to the video on youtube in the article.

  39. Anonymous
    28 Jun 10
    1:54 pm

  40. If I were the client and my ad was a pre-roll to this, I’d be pretty pissed. Especially given most organisations are now trying to be even more socially concious and moral.

    Fairfax need to explain this.

  41. Herald sun reader
    28 Jun 10
    2:03 pm

  42. Sites like four four two football magazine have been doing this for ages. They’ve gone as far as ripping the videos off YouTube then displaying them as content with no attribution at all.

  43. Michael Reece
    28 Jun 10
    2:28 pm

  44. ninemsn has been doing this for years. You’ll find hundreds of examples where they’ve happily ripped video footage off YouTube and embedded it using their ninemsn video tool.

  45. Adam
    28 Jun 10
    2:31 pm

  46. @James C

    I am with you there James. Improving user experience is about making lots of little things better. One little thing that really p1sses me off with SMH is when it says “your video will start in x seconds” and it gives me the option to stop the video.

    – Here is a tip Fairfax: dont start it in the first place please!

    I can understand exactly what you mean Tim. If Fairfax do not have an agreement with the other party then waterparking the content is pretty bl00dy cheaky if you ask me!!

  47. Ben
    28 Jun 10
    3:12 pm

  48. the internet – a place with no rules

  49. Foobar
    28 Jun 10
    3:56 pm

  50. Give SMH a break, they “source” so much content from other sites these days, “mistakes” like this are bound to happen!

    I’m curious to know what Fairfax’s relationship is with Mashable.com – I’m seeing more and more articles appearing in the IT section sourced directly from Mashable (word for word, including pictures – e.g. http://www.smh.com.au/digital-.....-ytu4.html). Mashable can’t be happy with the lose of impressions/revenue.

  51. Ben
    28 Jun 10
    4:05 pm

  52. “Thanks again for raising these issues, which I’m happy to say, are now working its way towards a resolution that provides a fair deal for all.”

    By “fair deal” I assume he really means ‘advertising revenue’. Because starting videos uninitiated isn’t really a fair deal to a user who goes to a page to read an articles text.

    The SMH and The Age pages are starting to look like the website Homer Simpson builds with all the animated gifs and annoying sounds. Although what Fairfax is doing is probably even more overstated.

  53. Ben
    28 Jun 10
    4:06 pm

  54. Adam Paull
    28 Jun 10
    4:23 pm

  55. Ben (Comment 16) – you’re a lifesaver… works a treat.

  56. OtherAndrew
    28 Jun 10
    4:27 pm

  57. HOLY CRAP!

    I was thinking ‘Kudos for the response’ but then I just saw this:


    What they’ve done is create a front page story (in the featured photo box on top left) purely to drive traffic to what looks essentially like a Canon mini-site (it’s their SMH vid page, but it’s plastered with Canon advertising across every available space).

    I’ve been a big fan of SMH for a long time and have stuck with them through pre-roll ads and other sins, but that is nearing unforgivable. Talk about selling out your journalistic integrity – a homepage ‘story’ that should actually be a banner ad. Shameful.

  58. Andrew F
    28 Jun 10
    4:49 pm

  59. They’ve been doing this for ages. I know someone who wrote a column for them (a one off) and they took an old youtube video and put it up with their watermark next to the column. They paid for the column but not for the video. Now they didn’t care as they weren’t making any money on youtube from, it but Fairfax didn’t ask. Thanks for the greasemonkey script. I’ve already got their ads blocked it will be great to stop the videos as well.

  60. marcf
    28 Jun 10
    5:13 pm

  61. Mumbrella = 1
    Fairfax = 0

  62. Anonymous
    28 Jun 10
    6:51 pm

  63. Nice work Tim. And nice reply Fairfax. They’re just trying to work it out- and this article ensures they’ll be fair.

    Capitalism and social media make for uncomfortable bed fellows.

  64. Josh rogan
    28 Jun 10
    8:24 pm

  65. You dipstick foobar. The smh has a deal with mashable.

  66. Original Nutter
    28 Jun 10
    8:36 pm

  67. Original quality content.

    I would pay for that!!

  68. anon1
    29 Jun 10
    6:50 am

  69. Dan Lewis
    29 Jun 10
    1:32 pm

  70. Whereas the Youtube player Just Works, the video players on a number of news websites, frankly suck.

  71. Dave
    29 Jun 10
    4:02 pm

  72. It’s unfortunate that every commercial news site does it and has done for quite a while. As is patently obvious, videos could just be embedded.

    It might be able to be argued though that there are examples where media outlets ‘need’ to rip a YouTube (or other) video before it’s taken down…

    I, of course, would not argue that 😉