FairTube ultimatum expires: YouTube invites unions to talks

After a first unofficial meeting, talks between FairTube and Google in Berlin are to begin soon. The campaign by the YouTubers Union and IG Metall demands more transparency about the operation of the video platform and the right to have a say in decisions.

Talks between YouTube and FairTube are to take place soon. Gemeinfrei-ähnlich freigegeben durch unsplash.com Christian Wiediger

There’s some life in it yet! YouTube has invited the German Metalworkers‘ Union, IG Metall, and the YouTubers Union to talks at the video platforms‘ Berlin office. The unions had called on the company to give YouTubers more transparency and a voice in decision making with the FairTube campaign. Thus far, YouTube had reacted negatively to the demands and a corresponding ultimatum.

According to IG Metall, YouTube parent Google now officially maintains that there is „a high interest in the success and satisfaction of YouTube Creators“. Google therefore „appreciated the recent interest expressed by the trade union in further supporting the work of YouTube Creators.“ The company has invited FairTube to a meeting in its Berlin office to „discuss some fundamental issues of the future of the collaboration,“ the letter continues.

FairTube is a campaign of IG Metall and YouTubers Union. A month ago, it had made a list of demands of the platform. One of the five demands is that Youtube make its content sorting decisions more transparent; for example, explain why a video is sorted into a certain category. Also included is a demand for disclosure of the reasons for the demonetisation or deletion of videos and channels in the future.

According to FairTube’s demands, YouTube should create a neutral arbitration body to mediate between video creators and the company as well as creating an advisory board involving YouTubers in decisions relating to the corporation.

Unions keep the option of a lawsuit open

Unofficial talks between YouTube and the founder of YouTubers Union, Jörg Sprave, took place last week. The German YouTuber confirmed this to netzpolitik.org. He had already announced the talks in a Facebook post the previous week. What exactly has been discussed thus far, has not been made public.

Sprave was very positive about the upcoming negotiations last week. „This is great news and actually exceeds my expectations“, he wrote in an announcement in the Facebook group of the YouTubers Union. YouTube is showing serious interest in working with FairTube, he said. „But of course the work has only just begun – we will have to see how our talks go and how YouTube reacts to our demands.“

FairTube’s demands were linked to a deadline that ended on Friday, August 23rd. The campaign threatened lawsuits if YouTube hadn’t started talks by then. The first reason being the possibly spurious self-employment of video creators, self-employment being rigorously controlled in Germany and many Youtubers having primarily Youtube as an employer. The second reason being violations of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). For now, the countdown has been stopped, IG Metall reported to netzpolitik.org.

„The pressure we put on Google and YouTube together with the YouTubers Union has paid off,“ Christiane Benner, second chairwoman of IG Metall, said to netzpolitik.org. „We succeeded in bringing Google to the table. We are looking forward to the talks and want to meet soon. Then we will see which changes YouTube is ready for.“

Google did not want to confirm whether talks had taken place. A spokesman gave only a standard response to netzpolitik.org, with one addition: „Contrary to what is being claimed here, YouTube Creators are not employees of YouTube from a legal point of view.“ The company did not comment on possible GDPR violations or FairTube’s individual demands.

Protest is media-suitable

Sprave had founded the YouTubers Union, which is organised as a public Facebook group, in response to the so-called „adpocalypse“ last year. YouTube had changed its algorithms, leading to many smaller creators losing large amounts of their income. After the founding, Sprave had been in talks with Google, but there had been no concrete progress. „What we lacked so far was real leverage,“ Sprave told netzpolitik.org.

The cooperation with IG Metall, Germany’s largest trade union, has changed that. „If YouTube is defeated – and we assume it will be – this will not only be expensive for YouTube, but also a PR disaster,“ Sprave said to netzpolitik.org. Many US media outlets have already reported on the campaign.

For Sprave, the campaign has already had a positive side-effect, which he also addresses himself: his own YouTube channel has been booming since the announcement of FairTube. But Sprave does not think that is a good thing. „In the last 28 days I’ve made more money on YouTube than in the previous six months,“ he wrote in another post on Facebook. He attributes this to the new YouTube algorithm, which rewards people famous on the wider internet with more clicks on the website. At least that is what he guesses, since of course nobody knows how exactly the algorithm works.

After the media reports on FairTube, the algorithm even pushed his videos back into the „trending“ overview, Sprave wrote – and union videos are not exactly known for being mass-suitable. He sees this as proof that YouTube is currently tailored for Hollywood celebrities rather than independent YouTubers. We remain curious if the campaign will change that.

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