YouTube Terms of Service Update Has Content Creators Concerned
Every so often, something happens over at YouTube that has content creators worried that the end is nigh for them and/or the website that hosts their content. So far, YouTube has come out mostly unscathed while YouTubers have found alternate ways of making a living creating online video content. Between the “adpocalypse,” copyright claim abuses, concerns over the application of community guidelines for monetization and ongoing changes to the YouTube discoverability algorithm, it’s seldom smooth sailing for your favourite YouTuber.
The latest changes to YouTube’s Terms of Service is doing nothing to allay those concerns as two lines are getting YouTubers concerned for their future… again.
In a recent email to users, YouTube said that they will be updating their Terms of Service on December 10th. They cited the following as the major takeaways from their update:
- Terms that are clearer and easier to understand with useful links to help you navigate YouTube and better understand our policies.
- Expanded commitments to notify you about changes that may affect you, such as product updates or future changes to the Terms; and
- Better alignment between our Terms and how YouTube works today.
It’s seems pretty standard on the surface as many companies are trying to translate their terms of service from legalese to plain language. However, people have been digging into the new Terms of Service and found some changes that have them worried.
The first line in question is “YouTube is under no obligation to host or serve Content.”
Larger outlets like The Verge and Mobile Syrup led with this but I’m inclined to say that this is a non-story. As a private company, YouTube has never been obliged to host anyone’s videos. If anything, this is an upfront declaration of what should be considered the obvious. Maybe it sounds a bit harsher than previously included in the TOS or than people would have liked but it’s a perfectly reasonable declaration for YouTube to make. Generally, people would use Freedom of Speech as a reason why YouTube is obliged to host videos or not censor them but the First Amendment to the US Constitution only applies to the government and not private business.
The other line that I think is of far more concern to YouTubers large and small is “YouTube may terminate your access, or your Google account’s access to all or part of the Service if YouTube believes, in its sole discretion, that provision of the Service to you is no longer commercially viable.”
Previous versions of the Terms of Service mentioned YouTube having the “sole discretion” to remove content or terminate a user’s account for violation of the TOS. However, my reading of the current TOS shows no similar language regarding termination of accounts for a lack of commercial viability. The Verge reports that there has been a version of this line since 2018 but it includes the verbiage “reasonably believe” which I couldn’t find in the current TOS.
For their part, YouTube told The Verge that the new Terms of Service would “not changing how we work with creators, nor their rights over their works, or their right to monetize.” They also took to Twitter to say “To clarify, there are no new rights in our ToS to terminate an account bc it’s not making money… This does not impact creators/viewers in any new ways.”
Regardless of YouTube’s assertions that nothing will change for creators, many are concerned that YouTube could see this as an excuse to remove creators and content that make no money from content (either through choosing not to monetize or by posting content not eligible for any monetization) or those users who use ad and tracker blocking add-ons in their browser. As YouTube wouldn’t be able to serve adds, these creators and users could be seen as “no longer commercially viable.”
Also, very quietly included in the above line is the possibility of terminating the Google account of a commercially non-viable YouTube user. This is an extreme measure so I can’t see terminating a user’s access to all Google services because of commercial reasons. The cynic in me thinks that Google has to make some money from serving ads, selling data and various app purchases from your average user so there would have to be a significant TOS violation to cause Google to terminate a whole account.
The new TOS also includes updated terms regarding the use of the platform by children and the responsibility parents hold for their kids’ use of YouTube. This follows a $170 million fine issued by the US Federal Trade Commission to YouTube for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
The question then becomes what content creators do if they’re concerned about their future at YouTube. Many in the gaming space have branched off into live streaming on Twitch and Mixer. I’m not familiar enough with the vlogging or reaction or comedy communities, for example, to know where their viable financial alternatives would lie. There are other video “tube” services but none as popular as YouTube. Well, none that aren’t X-rated.