“Line Rider - Mountain King” — A Case Study in Freebooting

If you’ve been on Facebook or YouTube in the last month or so, you’ve probably seen the brilliant video of a Line Rider course perfectly synced to Edvard Grieg’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King.”

In case you haven’t, do yourself a favor and watch it now:

This incredible piece is the work of 20-year-old YouTuber DoodleChaos, who has been making intricate animations and marble run videos for over six years.

In the 4 weeks since the video was published, DoodleChaos' masterpiece has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times, featured on the popular animation site Cartoon Brew, and gilded an astounding 78 times on Reddit. His YouTube subscriber base has also nearly quintupled in size.

But unfortunately, not all of the attention has been good.


The curse of Internet popularity

Any time an Internet video becomes popular, it is at risk of being stolen and reuploaded—and with no watermark or other identification in the video itself, DoodleChaos' video was a prime candidate. Within days of its launch, stolen copies of the video started to appear on Facebook. Mentes en caos, Zoomin.TV VIRAL, and GAMINGbible, to name a few, all uploaded the video via their own pages rather than linking to or embedding the YouTube original. Some gave credit to DoodleChaos and some did not, but none of these pages asked the creator for permission.

Sadly, the stolen copies of the video quickly outpaced the success of the original: the Facebook reposts alone reached over 20 million views within four days, while the original version on YouTube was still sitting at a measly million.


What is freebooting?

This act of reuploading a video for your own gain without the creator's permission is called freebooting. Freebooting is theft, plain and simple, and a clear violation of copyright law—but that doesn't stop thousands of Facebook pages from leeching off of content creators without ever getting caught. Many articles and videos have been published about freebooting already, but suffice to say that it's a widespread problem that affects countless hard-working creators, and that is even encouraged by Facebook's video algorithms. (More links about that after the article.)

What's the big deal, you say? Well, DoodleChaos spent over a month of his free time creating this masterpiece, but the other pages and sites are reaping the benefit from his hard work: they get exposure and/or ad revenue every time someone watches the video on their page.

DoodleChaos estimates that the freebooted copies of his video have been watched 40 million times to date. Imagine what those views could have done if people had watched the original on YouTube instead: using one site's estimates, he could have made $44,000 in ad revenue alone.


Meeting DoodleChaos

This is where I came in. I consider myself somewhat of a freebooting vigilante—as a video creator myself, I find it very upsetting when I see creators' content being used by others without their permission, and I try when I can to contact and warn the original creators. At least a few offending videos have been taken down as a result of my pestering, and I'm proud of it.

I actually saw the "Line Rider - Mountain King" video on Facebook before I found it at its proper home on YouTube. I loved the video and thought the creator deserved credit, so I did some research and got in touch with Mark Robbins, alias DoodleChaos.

I sent Mark the freebooted links I found and helped him report the violations, and he was very grateful and forthcoming. He graciously agreed to answer some questions for this article about his experience with this video and the subsequent freebooting.

Read our exclusive interview below:


Interview with Mark Robbins (aka DoodleChaos)

Peter C. Davidson: This video has been very successful, garnering over 3 million views on YouTube in just a few weeks. How did you feel when this video started taking off? What has been the reaction so far?

Mark Robbins: It’s a very strange feeling to describe. I felt very overwhelmed. I’m currently a junior in college, so I was trying to respond to emails and posts on Reddit with my phone while I was in lecture. It was quite distracting I must say. Seeing friends watch my video without knowing it was me that made it is a surreal feeling.

PCD: How did you first find out that your video was being freebooted?

MR: I discovered things had gotten out of hand first when you emailed me a link to the Facebook page Mentes en caos. A bit later my roommate showed me one of his Facebook friends had shared it as well.  There was nothing mentioning my channel or original video anywhere. At first I was unsure what to do. After some help from you finding the Facebook copyright claim site, I filled out all the information as fast as I could and submitted it to Facebook. Within a few hours I was denied, with the following message:

FB email screenshot.jpg

"...we do not see how the content you reported violates your intellectual property rights."

—Response from Facebook Employee

PCD: How did you feel when you found out that your video was being reuploaded without your permission, at times without even crediting you?

MR: Although it can be “helpful” to smaller channels like mine, knowing that pages putting in zero effort are freeloading off you to massive success can be disheartening. This only applies to the people who were ambiguous in how they asked for permission or didn’t credit me at all — I respect those who emailed me asking for permission beforehand.

PCD: Have you reported any more of these copyright violations? What has been the result?

MR: I’ve taken down two copies of my video on Youtube so far. Youtube’s claim system I found to be much more user-friendly than Facebook’s. With Youtube, I felt like they were on my side — with Facebook I felt like they were protecting the freebooters because of how complicated it was to file a claim. Even if I did eventually figure out how to make the claim, enough time had passed that the virality of the video was over and the freebooters had already made their money.  

PCD: Some of the freebooted copies of your video have reached up to 23 million views. Do you think this added exposure of your work is worth it, even if your work is reposted without your permission? Why or why not?

MR: This is the big question right here. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It doesn’t make me happy that these people are making so much more than me off of something I worked so hard to make, but I also realize that when my channel is this small that there’s not much I can do about it at this point. Any publicity is good publicity I’d say. Hopefully my channel gets big enough in the future to where I don’t have to accept this, haha.

I know Facebook views are worth less than YouTube views (since they are incremented even if someone only scrolls past), but it would have made a HUGE difference if those estimated 40 million external views were an embedded version of my video.

PCD: What do you want everyday users of YouTube and Facebook to know about freebooting?

MR: If you’re a small creator, or somebody that just got lucky with a viral video like me, be very careful that you know what you’re getting into. People don’t always approach you with good intent like Peter did to me, most of the time they want to make money off of you.


What can we do?

If you want to help Mark and other talented creators like him, YouTuber Destin Sandlin (Smarter Every Day) suggests 3 steps we can all take to fight back against freebooting:

  1. Capture — take a screenshot of the freebooted content.

  2. Comment — comment on the video, state that it's been stolen, and provide a link to the original source.

  3. Contact — contact the original creator with the link and your screenshot so they can file a copyright claim and hopefully get the offending video taken down.

It's not a perfect solution, but it's the best way to fight back, and it certainly makes you feel better!


The Aftermath

As of this writing, the most successful freeboot of the "Line Rider - Mountain King" video is still up and running with over 23 million views—Facebook never took it down after Mark's copyright report. Interestingly, though, the page has now added a link to the original, along with the suspicious statement "We finally have the source of the video" (translated from Spanish). I'm sure they were anxiously looking for the original creator during the several weeks they were stealing views from him, and that this had nothing to do with the copyright claim. 🙄

Some of the other stolen copies of the video were taken down, but the damage has been done: studies suggest that after just 30 days, a YouTube video has already gotten over 99% of all the views it will ever receive.

Just last week (on Halloween, in fact) came another interesting development to this story: A24, the studio behind the Oscar-award winning film Moonlight, posted a video on their official YouTube Channel that looked a little . . . familiar.

Think it looks a bit like the DoodleChaos video? You're not the only one. YouTube commenters were quick to point out the similarities:

this is a straight-up copy of DoodleChaos’ very cool “In the Hall of the Mountain King” video from 3 weeks ago...
— Adam Quigley
Come on a24, Give credit to the artist who you copied.
— Spencer Bowman
I hope they gave credit to the guy who did this exact thing in line rider last month... otherwise thats low.. stealing someones idea an d not giving credit...
— skankhunt42

If even YouTube commenters are fighting back against copyright infringement, I guess there is hope for the Internet. :)


Article by Peter C. Davidson, Video Production Specialist at Happy Fox Media.


More links about freebooting:

How Facebook is Stealing Millions of Views — Kurzgesagt

Facebook Freebooting — Smarter Every Day

Theft, Lies, and Facebook Video — Hank Green

Facebook's Freebooting Epidemic — It's Okay to be Smart