Weird and/or Petty

Change of plan! I spotted something interesting on Rationality Rules’ channel.

Rationality Rule's last five videos, as of June 18th, 2019. The settings section has been enlarged.

His latest video on transgender athletes doesn’t have closed-captioning, at all. That’s unusual for RR, as you can see the prior four videos all had them. That’s also unusual for YouTube: every video that YouTube can transcribe, it automatically will. In fact, you can’t even delete those automatic captions, at best you can manually hide them by clicking a few buttons.

There are a few charitable arguments for hiding those captions. The auto-captions are pretty inaccurate. Three of those videos have hand-crafted closed-captions, so maybe RR is a stickler for quality. Or maybe the person/people who do his captions are late to the party? Alas, all three arguments don’t hold water. If RR is a stickler for quality, why do all four of the videos with captions still have the lousy auto-captions as an option? The majority of YouTube videos rack up all their views in the first few days, and RR’s video has been live for nearly four days, so RR has made it pretty clear the lack of captions was an intentional choice. He also begged off posting “The Mistakes of Many” for months, waiting a bit for the CC’s to finish shouldn’t have been a big deal to him.

Which brings us to the uncharitable arguments. It’s extremely difficult to critique video or audio, as their real-time nature places a huge load on your memory skills. The written word freezes your thoughts in place, in contrast, and allows anyone to easily skip forward and backward or meditate on a specific passage. Extracting the closed captions from a YouTube video is trivially easy, and while they might be considered a derivative work owned by the creator, they still fall under fair-use laws. That’s why extracting captions is always my first step when I critique a YouTube video.

So by manually disabling all captions, Rationality Rules may be deliberately trying to make his work tougher to critique! What’s worse, he’d be doing it on the backs of people with disabilities and those who don’t understand English well.

Forty-eight million Americans report having some degree of hearing loss. Without closed captioning, many of those people would not be able to fully understand or appreciate your video. This means that closed captions can notably increase your audience, expanding your video’s reach and impact.

Closed captions aren’t just for people with hearing disabilities. If English isn’t someone’s first language, for example, seeing written text with the spoken language can be very helpful to understand it. Or, if viewers are in a setting where sound isn’t allowed, closed captions let them still view the video. This boosts audience usage and encourages viewers to continue engaging with the platform.

Captions are so highly valued, in fact, it’s illegal to have non-captioned videos in the USA! In sum, the most likely explanation for Rationality Rules’ move is that he’s a petty coward who’s so scared of being critiqued that he’s willing to make life worse for a significant number of innocent viewers.

Fortunately, I have some tricks up my sleeve. Here’s a set of closed captions for Rationality Rules’ latest video on transgender athletes. Most of them were automatically generated by me, and thus terrible, but those are slowly being replaced by hand-crafted captions. I’m also planning on adding comments and fact-checks to the document as I go. Whether or not closed captions are considered a derivative work and thus owned by RR, “no one ever sued anybody for making closed captions.”

Blake [Reid] elaborates: “You don’t need to ask permission to engage in fair use. So if you’re in a circumstance where you’ve decided it’s too difficult to track down copyright holders, or we feel like that’s impractical in the circumstances we’re facing, you don’t have to ask permission. Remember that whole complicated bit I just went through about which rights captioning might implicate? Doesn’t matter for fair use. You can make use of any of those exclusive rights so long as your use is fair. So all that complicated legal analysis that will give your general counsel heartburn doesn’t matter if it’s fair use.”

Fair use is a gray area, largely defined and clarified by case law. […] Technically, yes, it’s possible that someone could make the argument that adding captions violates someone’s copyright. But there’s no history of that happening in American case law. As the Harvard and MIT lawsuit illustrates, it is far more likely that a university will be sued for breaching accessibility law if you don’t add captions. It’s safer to err on the side of caution and add captions.

In fact, since RR deliberately removed the captions on his video, I auto-generated these captions myself, and I’m editing them for the purpose of critique, there’s an argument to be made that the copyright on those captions belongs to me! It’s a weak claim, true, but as RR and I live in different countries any lawsuit to establish proper ownership would be a legal nightmare, especially without any case law acting as a guide. In any event, such a lawsuit would immediately trigger the Streisand Effect. Besides, I’m doing Rationality Rules a favor: unlike him, I give a shit about people with disabilities and those who don’t speak English well, and I’d rather not have him sued by some money-hungry US lawyer. So I hereby grant Rationality Rules the ability to copy my work. He can make derivative works of these captions, and he owns the copyright on those works provided he credits me and does not challenge whether or not I own the copyright on these original captions. I consider those terms generous.

Speaking of which, I could use some help. There’s 21:28 minutes of video to caption and critique, which is a lot for a single person who’s already neck-deep in other work. Anyone who wants to help can send me a request via the document itself. Do not add any critique to the main text, instead use the commenting system. I want to ensure the main text is a valid SSA file, so people can download it to add captions to RR’s video. When you do make changes, please add a comment demarcating them in the same fashion as me. Failure to live by these rules may get your editing privileges revoked.

And don’t try anything funny: Google Docs keeps a complete edit history on their servers, so I can see who’s trying to screw things up, yank their access, and easily clean up the mess.

[HJH 2019-06-26] I’ve been periodically checking RR’s video, in case he decided to silently add closed-captioning back, and during my latest check I noticed he did exactly that. The change comes roughly seven to ten days after the video went up, and long after most people have viewed it. Interestingly, only the automatically-generated captions are present. As I pointed out above, most of RR’s videos have hand-crafted captions, as does the original video this one has replaced. It’s kind of weird that he’d spend months crafting this video, yet not bother to have it transcribed, while a video that was rushed out in a few days has hand-crafted captions.

Still, kudos to RR for flipping that switch back. You’ve made life easier for some people.