Sargon of Akkad is well known for his reliance on heavily sampling video from other sources to make his shows. The justification seems to be that because Sargon hasn’t sought permission to use these videos, his work must qualify as fair use. But this rings a little false, considering one of Sargon’s videos was recently taken down for copyright infringement.
How many times has Sargon infringed upon the copyrights of others in the past year? Which, if any of these samplings qualify as fair use? Does Sargon tend to sample videos in their entirety, or just the relevant snippets? In the videos where infringement occurred, did Sargon collect funding from Patreon for “creating” a new video out of stolen materials? If yes, how often?
The results of my research are, in a word, flabbergasting.
About a third of Carl’s videos contained some copyrighted video clips. Two thirds of the videos containing copyrighted clips were submitted to Patreon, allowing Sargon to collect a commission for making them. Sargon correctly credited copyrighted works he sampled less than half the time.
Sargon violates YouTube’s Terms of Service by including copyrighted material in his videos. As per YouTube’s ToS:
Respect copyright. Only upload videos that you made or that you’re authorized to use.This means don’t upload videos you didn’t make, or use content in your videos that someone else owns the copyright to, such as music tracks, snippets of copyrighted programs, or videos made by other users, without necessary authorizations.
Some might say I’m collecting Sargon’s peccadilloes by charting every instance of possible copyright infringement on his channel in the past year, and I suppose this is true. After all, I spoiled the ending of Hatoful Boyfriend in my top post, so who am I to judge if Sargon uploads hours of network television without obtaining permission? And what is fair use for, if not to cover pirate-ish videos of questionable utility, made on a commercial basis by bombastic assholes?
Yet my findings demonstrate numerically Sargon’s entitlement to sample whomever he wants, for as long as he likes, for purposes that may not be fair use at all. I would recommend anyone whose work was listed in this survey to review the relevant Sargon videos I cited. Sargon may owe you a licensing fee, or YouTube may owe you a takedown.
I tabulated instances of copyrighted video clips appearing in Sargon’s 2014-2015 oeuvre of two-hundred and sixty-two videos. Videos created within this period but removed from YouTube prior to 8/18/2015 were not considered for the purposes of this survey. Video clips in the public domain (e.g. Zoe Quinn’s congressional testimony, Obama’s State of the Union Address) were excluded from consideration.
Interviews with Sargon, live streams, videos shot by Sargon on his GoPro etc. were considered Sargon’s intellectual property, although some of these videos (particularly the “This Week in Stupid” series) contain loads of copyrighted images and text. The remaining ninety-five videos (36% of the total N of videos Sargon made that year) contained copyrighted video footage and were tabulated for the purposes of this survey. In each case I noted the name of the copyright holder, date their work was released, and a link to the source video where possible. Six cases of infringement proved un-attributable, and are listed “Owner Unknown” in my database.
Sargon forgot to credit copyright holders in fifteen of the ninety-five videos where infringement occurred. Twelve times Sargon credited the copyright holder only as “Source” or “Original Video”. Another fifteen times he credited copyright holders, but not by name, e.g. as “Liar”, or “Antipodean SJWs”. Twice, Sargon credited a copyright holder and then wrote “(please don’t contact him)” next to the link. In total, fifty-one (53%) of Sargon’s sampled copyright works were incorrectly attributed in some way or another. Sargon secured permission to sample in just two videos of the ninety-five. (I.e. 2.5% of the total.)
Sargon also uploaded many videos containing copyrighted material to Patreon. In total, two-thirds (65) videos containing infringement were submitted to Patreon as original work, earning Sargon a commission each time.
An important consideration when evaluating a fair use defense is length of the video sampled. In 44 of the 95 videos studied (or 46% of the time), Sargon uploaded copyrighted video in its entirety. This included news segments from network television as well as videos made by other YouTubers.
It’s worth asking whether this sampling in toto would be considered fair use in any other medium. For example, if the New York Book Review published an entire novel with snarky marginalia written in red ink and called this a critique, would that constitute fair use of the author’s work? And if not, where does Sargon’s “criticism” stand?
Ultimately, the decision about whether any of the ninety-five videos I identified constitutes copyright infringement is up to YouTube. But it seems unlikely to me that every one of these ninety-five instances I’ve identified qualifies as fair use. The case for fair use is further weakened when you consider that Sargon’s purpose in these videos is often to discredit and diminish the copyright holders (including financially), and that two times out of three, Sargon earns a commission from Patreon for releasing these mini-documentaries. It’s also worth considering that “transformative aspect” of Sargon’s videos have all the artistic merit of a guy talking in a movie theater, and that these videos have questionable utility to anybody but Sargon’s bank account.