Many of you have been asking about a dispute that has arisen between The Atheist Experience crew and a YouTube channel owner named Steve Mills. I’d like to take a moment to clear up what happened and why the contention came up.
First, just to get this out of the way: Yes, I did send Steve a letter, under the official Atheist Experience channel account, asking him to stop reposting entire episodes of the show. This was after multiple attempts to get in touch with him in a much friendlier context, and after he’d closed off various methods of communication, and Jen Peeples (one of our cohosts, and the current president of the Atheist Community of Austin) had received some ugly messages when she tried to post the requests in his comments sections. In short, I brought up a copyright violation, only after other means of getting in touch had clearly failed.
After I sent my message to Steve, he retaliated by posting a video with the text of my message, some angry captions overlaid on top, and some sinister music playing over it. Here is a link to the video; I have no desire to cover it up. I’m just writing this to explain the motivation.
Time for some boring legalese. Episodes of The Atheist Experience are currently released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0, which stipulates that other people may make duplicates of our videos, but there are certain restrictions, namely:
- “You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) for, this License with every copy of the Work You Distribute or Publicly Perform.”
- “keep intact… to the extent reasonably practicable, the URI, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work”
- “You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You… in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation”
This is complicated a little bit by the fact that when we selected this particular license, YouTube did not allow long clips to be posted. It was limited to ten minutes per clip. At the time, this meant that anybody could put up short clips of The Atheist Experience, which was enough time to include most individual calls in their entirety. We’ve always encouraged fans to post their favorite bits from the show; in fact in many cases we have highlighted these clips on the official Atheist Experience page.
We’re a bit more dubious about the practice of posting entire episodes, especially people who post every episode, every week. Since this was not possible in a practical way previously, we are currently discussing whether we need to select a different licensing arrangement for future episodes. Regardless, the fact remains that Steve’s videos were in violation because (1) he didn’t use the Creative Commons License, and (2) he didn’t link back to us.
Here are a few reasons why we’re currently not entirely comfortable with people reproducing full episodes every week:
- It gives the false impression that a particular channel is officially associated with The Atheist Experience. Even when the channels explicitly say “this is a fan channel,” sometimes we receive email at the show’s address (firstname.lastname@example.org) demanding to know why a particular channel operator blocked a user. While we don’t have a problem with blocking users on our own sites, we already have enough feedback to deal with, without being held responsible for the actions of various strangers.
- This kind of distribution makes it harder to provide clarification on episode content. For example, you may remember the Foolish Atheists episode, in which Patrick Greene, after trying to sue Ray Comfort over a bumper sticker, gave out his email address on the air and asked people to tell him if they agreed. We STILL get email directed at Patrick, even though it happened five years ago and we’ve tried to tag every video copy we can with a note that people should not email him anymore.
- It dilutes the audience, making monetization a bigger challenge. This is actually not a huge issue for us. However, the ACA is a non-profit organization, which is run entirely by volunteers and survives primarily through donations. Maintaining control of our own channels is one of many financial concerns that helps keep the organization going, although the income from video clicks is still pretty small. No member individually profits from the YouTube channel; all funds received go into the organization’s general fund, which we use to pay producer and training fees, buy equipment for shows done out of the studio, maintain a library and studio which may be used in a more prominent way in the future, and put on social events that our fans frequently attend.
I’ve had numerous discussions with various board and crew members over the weekend about the reproduction of Atheist Experience shows. While we recognize that Steve could, in principle, come back in compliance with the terms of the CC license and continue hosting copies of our videos, we would like to think that a fan who runs a channel entirely based on the content that we produced, would have the courtesy to listen to our concerns and respect our preferences. This hasn’t been the case. Steve has set up a filter which apparently blocked out Jen Peeples and made it nearly impossible for her to reach him, and various earlier attempts at outreach have been ignored. This is unfriendly behavior from someone who is allegedly trying to “promote” us.
In closing, I’d like to address a few other complaints we’ve heard from well meaning individuals who have written us to express their hostility to the way I handled this dialogue.
1. Steve Mills is the channel I always use to watch new episodes. Without him, you would lose viewers.
We post our new episodes in numerous formats. Viewers can always watch the show live on Ustream, or alternatively through Channel Austin’s own live feed. New episodes are saved automatically to our Ustream channel, and then they are generally uploaded very quickly to Blip.tv. We announce the existence of these channels every week. You can get this information by visiting the archive page, and you can also download the shows as audio reproductions or via podcast. It is really not hard to get hold of new episodes.
2. I hate Ustream and Blip, I only want to watch on YouTube, but you don’t keep your own YouTube channel up to date.
I’m not terribly keen on the idea that no format but YouTube is acceptable for providing current episodes. Steve has clearly been taking his own reproductions from the channels I mentioned above; they are the same thing. Having said that, I’m aware that the official Atheist Experience YouTube channel hasn’t been well maintained in recent times. This is partly my own fault. A few months ago I recognized that no one had been maintaining it actively for a long time. I got the YouTube login credentials and started trying to update the latest shows, but couldn’t find the time to keep up with the process.
Luckily, Martin Wagner has stepped up and taken over the channel. As of today, you’ll find that all the latest episodes have been posted, including the one from yesterday. It is still the case that this is an all-volunteer effort by people who lead their own lives, so I hope fans will be understanding if the YouTube channel doesn’t remain perfectly current. However, Martin has, for now, stated that he has every intention of posting new episodes to YouTube as soon as possible.
3. Comments on your channel are disabled. This is censorship, and I only want to watch The Atheist Experience in a venue that is unmoderated.
YouTube comments are indeed disabled in our channel. However, each video has a prominent link to the associated open thread that appears on this blog. In the past we’ve tried opening up the channel to comments, but we found that a very high number of episodes wound up being flooded with a combination of spam, long winded apologists, and various obscene or misogynistic comments directed at various hosts by people with an axe to grind. This seems to be the nature of YouTube comment sections, in my experience.
I don’t read YouTube comments very often myself, but Martin would also like to add the following: “In the last two weeks, Google, the owners of YouTube, integrated Google Plus with YT comments, with the result that comments on high-traffic channels went from annoying at worst to an absolute, Kafka-esque nightmare of insanity. With no restrictions at all, people would post entire novels and screenplays, obscene ASCII art, and live links to viruses. Most of the biggest channels, including PewDiePie, disabled comments entirely until Google fixed the problem, which I understand they are now doing. But whatever the case, moderating comments on YouTube to avoid such lunacy was always a fool’s errand, and is now even worse, and we’re much happier offering open thread on both our blog and our FB page.”
We do moderate the blog, the same way that we moderate chat during the show, as well as comments on our Facebook group. For comment sections that are “officially” associated with our show (and, to a much lesser extent, channels that may give the unintended appearance of being official), we prefer not to play host to straight up ad hominem attacks and bigotry. As a general policy we do not block commenters simply on the basis of disagreement with our point of view. However, we do prefer discussion environments that don’t actively chase off more reasonable contributors.
I’m aware that some people disagree with that policy, and prefer to have a “warts and all” conversation about the show. To those people, I recommend you find or create a message board that you’d like to use to discuss the show. It doesn’t have to be tied to a video. Linking is not that hard to do.
Thanks for your understanding in this matter. We appreciate our fans, we’re sorry to have caused confusion and resentment, and I hope you’ll understand where the organization is coming from.