Specific Instances of Copyright Infringement by Sargon of Akkad – A Database Approach

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.

Sargon of Akkad: A Thief, a Liar, and a Bully

Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad. (Source: YouTube/David Pakman Show)

Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad. (Source: YouTube/David Pakman Show)

There’s no argument that Sargon of Akkad’s (real name: Carl Benjamin) antifeminist videos are in bad taste. Offending people’s sensibilities is part of the product, part of why the videos appeal to neoreactionary dillweeds. Sargon’s job is to be a bombastic asshole who “debates” recordings of people his fans hate, delivering the grade-school put-downs his witless viewers simply don’t have the mental capacity to compose. His job, essentially, is to spin the news into something his viewers will find palatable and entertaining, for which he gets paid around $870 per video.

Sadly, Sargon violates the rules of the platforms he uses to raise his money and to distribute his videos – and quite possibly the laws of his country as well. Specifically, Sargon’s unlicensed theft of other people’s videos as fodder for him to mock is a violation of the copyright holder, and what he says violates several UK civil statues – namely, harassment and defamation. And given that Sargon’s job is basically to pour gasoline on a raging trash fire, it would seem he is morally (if not legally) responsible for the additional harassment his videos generate.

It isn’t “fair use”, it’s theft

Stealing a video from YouTube so that you can record yourself abusing its maker for profit is not “fair use” by any rational definition of the word. Fair use generally requires a work to be transformative, i.e. not a reproduction of the original work. It doesn’t help that Sargon tends to sample videos in their entirety, and that he does so as a commercial enterprise.

Some might defend what Sargon does as “parody”, which is protected by fair use. But for Sargon’s work to qualify as a parody, it would have to provide a social benefit, and it would have to change the source work in a substantial way to create an entirely new and original work. (For reference, this is an actual parody of Anita Sarkeesian.) Simply insulting the person or thing you’re trying to parody doesn’t cut it – that’s just being a dick. Since Sargon’s “commentary” would be meaningless without the videos he steals, his work is not transformative or original in any substantial way.

Just because Sargon’s videos get past YouTube’s bootleg filter does not mean they’re not copyright infringement. The fact that Sargon would probably never get permission from creators to sample their videos isn’t a suitable justification for stealing them, either. In fact, some of Sargon’s videos have been taken down for copyright infringement, like his hot take on the first Republican primary debate. Let’s be honest – YouTube and Patreon have a greater incentive to heed copyright infringement claims made by Fox News than they do from private individuals, and that’s why Sargon’s videos stay online.

It isn’t “free speech”, it’s harassment and defamation

It always tickles me how Sargon and his followers pivot to a 1st Amendment defense of his work, given that UK citizens aren’t entitled to rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. The laws that govern Sargon and right to his free expression are actually much more restrictive than the ones that govern me & mine, as I write this in New York. Specifically, the UK has very stringent, and very plantiff-friendly laws against harassment and defamation.

In the Nanny State, harassment is defined as any action which amounts to harassment of another person, which the harasser knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of that person. Most notably, the person doing the harassing does not even have to have a motive or intention to harass, so long as the contact is unwanted by the recipient. So, for example, if Sargon made a video examining Ellen Pao’s sexual discrimination lawsuit, he wouldn’t need to mean for it to be harassing for it to potentially qualify as harassment.

UK defamation law is unkind to Sargon as well. In that case, Sargon is liable for anything he says about the people he targets which would be apt to make the average citizen to think worse of them.

Now, the truth is an absolute defense against defamation. But in the UK, the burden of proof rests on the defendant. For example, if Sargon repeatedly accused Matt Binder of being a “liar”, and Binder sued him for it, it would be up to Sargon to prove that Binder did, in fact, lie during his radio broadcasts. As far as I can tell, the only reason Sargon hasn’t already been sued because the people he pillories haven’t initiated litigation against him. But that doesn’t mean what he says is actually legal.

It isn’t “satire”, it’s incitement

It’s important to consider that Sargon’s fans are already pig-biting mad at the people he attacks online. In fact, being widely hated already is an important selection criterion when Sargon makes his videos, because his fans want him to roast someone they already know & love to hate.

To Sargon, the people whose hurt he profits from are an abstraction. To him, these videos are a business, and one his own family depends on. But actually being a subject on Sargon’s show is a positive feedback loop for harassment: people who already receive a lot of internet death threats are more likely to be featured, and if they are featured, the amount of harassment they receive is likely to increase. If Sargon’s video creates a lot of harassment for a person, he’s more likely to feature them in subsequent videos.

To keep his channel online, Sargon goes out of his way to label his work as “satire” or “commentary”, but really he’s just pushing the envelope; harassing his targets enough to get the viewers he needs without getting himself canned from Patreon and YouTube.

There’s nothing “satirical” about Sargon’s videos, because he honestly believes what he says. He honestly believes that feminists and feminism are a mental illness needing to be destroyed. Anita delenda est. 

Sargon may even be legally culpable of incitement, by encouraging others to commit acts of harassment. In the UK, you can be liable for incitement even if your remarks were addressed to the world at large, and one’s encouragement need not have any actual effect on the crime committed. By this rubric, Sargon’s videos would seem like a particularly reckless form of incitement: he broadcasts hate speech to a dedicated fandom of angry sexists.

I have always been a little surprised by the huge viewership Sargon commands, given that you could go to any pub in the Midlands and find blokes like him yelling at the lady on the local TV news for free. But unlike some chap running his mouth, Sargon has a fandom that takes his words to heart, and who have a proven history of harassment.

Sargon of Akkad is pouring gasoline on a fire. So far, the spectacle has made Patreon, YouTube, and Sargon himself a good bit of money. But if someone gets burned, it’ll be Sargon- and the platforms who hosted him- that will be to blame.

Edit: added a paragraph about UK incitement law.