In September 2018, the Verge posted a video that was designed to show people how to build a PC, which was full of errors and mistakes. Some were inconsequential or considered bad practice, like having bad cable management which might impede airflow but wouldn’t necessarily impact performance. Some would cause performance problems but not damage, like putting the GPU in the wrong PCI-e slot. And some issues could cause irreversible damage, like using the wrong screws on the radiator, which could potentially penetrate the radiator tubing and cause coolant leaks. The internet quickly began criticizing this video for its flaws, making parodies and reaction videos, and the Verge disabled the comments on the video before ultimately taking it down, amending the accompanying article noting that the video wasn’t up to their standards. Paul’s Hardware did a very good summary of the video and the reaction to it. The internet made fun of it for awhile, and everyone largely moved on. Until this week.
On Tuesday evening, Kyle from the YouTube channel Bitwit tweeted that the Verge had used YouTube’s copyright strike system to take down his reaction video. The Verge did not issue a statement or public comment to this, but about a day later, the claim was reversed after being disputed. According to Bitwit, YouTube disputed that the video fell under fair use for transformative purposes (which will go on to be disputed by the Verge later). They also took down a video from channel ReviewTechUSA which broke the original video down and added a lot of commentary to it. Before the videos were reversed, several large tech YouTube channels posted videos about the Verge’s actions, which appeared to outsiders like the Verge was trying to censor criticism, as the videos were both transformative, critical, and highly viewed.
This morning, editor-in-chief Nilay Patel finally issued a statement on behalf of the Verge. In it he says that the legal team at Vox Media (the parent company of the Verge) found these videos and decided that they were not fair use, and issued copyright strikes to YouTube under their own purview. Later, when he was notified of these strikes, he had them rescinded despite believing that the legal team was correct in thinking that they did not fall under fair use. He then spent the morning responding to tweets about the issue, including my own, which were almost entirely negative.
Now, I’ve generally liked the Verge and Nilay Patel’s work, and have defended him and his position strongly when I agree with him. And after thinking about it, in some ways I can understand where they’re coming from. If we assume they’re being truthful in their public statement, they saw some videos, they felt they were not fair use, they tried to take them down. But their process failed in a few fundamental ways.