The Latest YouTuber Controversy Reveals Facebook’s Looming Video-Theft Problem

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Facebook has a huge and long-standing problem with freebooting, the practice of downloading other people’s original videos and reuploading them as your own, and it finally came to a head this week when one popular channel accused another of blatant, repeated video theft. Insults and legal threats were exchanged, Redditors got involved, and now, half a dozen videos and millions of YouTube views later, the dust is finally clearing.

Antonio Lievano, a.k.a. SoFlo Antonio, is a popular YouTube prank “comedian” whose Facebook page has nearly 7 million subscribers. He started out making original prank videos but has come under fire in the past year for recycling others’ content as his own without permission or proper credit.

The allegations against SoFlo have been floating around for some time, to the point that he’s become something of an internet meme. In November of 2015, another popular YouTuber, Ethan Klein of h3h3productions, started a parody Facebook page called “SoFloBro” to spoof his business model.

SoFlo apparently didn’t take kindly to being mocked. On Tuesday, Klein posted a video on the h3h3productions YouTube channel, claiming that Facebook had shut down his SoFloBro parody page and transferred all its “likes” to the real SoFlo page.

They actually closed down our parody page, of people who hated SoFlo, and moved all of the likes to SoFlo, in a sweeping act of justice,” Klein sarcastically explained in his video.

That SoFlo himself ended up with thousands more unearned “likes” was especially galling to Klein, considering the lip service Facebook has paid to dealing with the rampant copyright infringement and freebooting problems on its platform.

Klein also accused SoFlo of pretending to give credit for stolen videos by uploading them to a separate dummy Facebook account first, then linking to that account from his real Facebook page. Klein dubbed this scheme “Facebook like laundering.”

Klein’s outrage really picked up steam when his “SoFlo Facebook Rant” video made it to the top of Reddit’s hugely popular videos forum, r/videos, and racked up over a million views. The beef between two popular YouTubers was now a full-blown internet controversy, and SoFlo felt compelled to respond with videos of his own and threats of legal action.

His initial response was to flat-out deny being a video thief, and to claim that he licenses every video on his page — in fact, some people even pay him for the placement!

And when that didn’t seem particularly truthful to the mob calling him out on Reddit, he switch tactics and accused Klein himself of stealing videos for h3h3productions:

These clips do indeed show Ethan Klein using other people’s videos, but SoFlo cuts them off after a couple of seconds, before getting to the part where Klein parodies, comments on, transforms, or does whatever this is to the videos.

The attack fell flat on Reddit, and didn’t win SoFlo any friends.

And that’s when he apparently started sending legal threats from “investors,” threatening to sue Klein for tarnishing the valuable SoFlo brand. Klein lawyered up, working with video-game attorney Ryan Morrison (whom you may remember from the other big YouTube scandal this month, the Fine Bros. attempt to trademark reaction videos).

Here’s Klein explaining his legal situation:

And SoFlo responded to it with … well, this. I can’t tell whether it’s self-aware parody or some kind of sincere, school-yard assertion of masculinity, but I can assure you it is the most humorous part of the entire saga:

SoFloAntonio may be kind of a jerk, but consider that he’s also a product of the Facebook environment and a symptom of a much larger issue.

In a world where Facebook’s algorithms reward uploading a video to Facebook over just posting the YouTube original, giving native Facebook videos several times as much reach, what incentive is there not to steal videos?

h3h3productions recently had one of its videos ripped off by another page and tried to go through the process of getting the violator’s post taken down. Facebook asked him to try to work it out with the offending page directly. Even if the thief had agreed, the damage was already done.

At least on YouTube, there’s an automated Content ID system to prevent this sort of thing. That, of course, comes with its own set of problems, but it makes Facebook look like the lawless Wild West by comparison.

And, considering how much of Facebook’s revenue plan is built on video, that’s something they might want to clean up sooner rather than later.