We’re getting the feeling that Nikola Corp is going to be the biggest dumpster fire since our multi-year love/hate relationship with Faraday Future. Content creators on YouTube are now criticizing the startup for abusing copyright claims to strike down videos that were coming down hard on its recent actions after at least two financial commentators operating channels on the Google-owned video platform have had clips removed this week.
While copyright abuses have become uncomfortably common as a way to censor opponents on YouTube over the last few years, they’ve become increasingly predatory as Google rarely seems interested in siding with the little guy. We suppose this was the inevitability of the proliferation of a corporate-controlled internet but knowing that makes the practice seem no less grimy, especially with terms and services being so woefully vague that content can be removed for practically any reason, to begin with. Nikola is hardly the first company to engage in this grotesque behavior and will not be the last.
The company has claimed creators infringed its copyright by using footage owned by the company, despite those clips almost assuredly being subject to the U.S. fair use doctrine — which permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder.
According to the Financial Times, all of the stricken videos were critical of Nikola, and most included footage of one of its prototype trucks rolling down a hill. The vehicle in question was supposed to be operating under its own power as proof of the startup’s technological prowess to woo investors. But a report from short-seller Hindenburg Research used it (among other things) as evidence to claim the company was actively committing fraud. Content creators were reportedly using the footage for informative purposes to help assess the company’s behavior, which should have qualified as transformative enough not to be subject to copyright strikes.
It should also be noted that Nikola has admitted that the truck was not operating under its own power in the promotional video before any action was taken on YouTube and is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Sam Alexander, who runs a YouTube account that has posted several critical videos about Nikola, said he received a notification from the platform on Wednesday afternoon that one of his videos had been taken down because he had used footage of the Nikola One truck in motion.
He added that 10 minutes later, another three of his videos with the same footage were removed.
Right now my main concern is that Nikola is using copyright strikes to silence their critics,” he told the Financial Times, adding that he was considering filing an appeal with YouTube.
A spokesman for Nikola said: “YouTube regularly identifies copyright violations of Nikola content and shares the lists of videos with us. Based on YouTube’s information, our initial action was to submit takedown requests to remove the content that was used without our permission. Going forward, we will evaluate these flagged videos on a case-by-case basis.”
Tom Nash’s financial channel was likewise subject to strikes after he saw three videos removed that were criticizing Nikola. He’s currently appealing the decision via the platform’s embedded system.
“It’s what you would call a death sentence for a creator,” Mr. Nash explained. “This is my livelihood. I have three kids. I quit my job to do this.”
Google told us that Nikola actually has direct access to its copyright matching tool, which does not automatically remove videos in its current form. Users are said to be required to manually complete a copyright removal request before any action is taken by YouTube. There are also rules that qualify “commentary, criticism, research, teaching, or news reporting” as fair use on the site. But the company is notoriously flaky in adhering to its own guidelines and makes them intentionally vague to exercise rules as it sees fit. Even in regard to the fair use assessment, YouTube admits “it can depend on the situation.”
While FT’s reporting made the incidents seem isolated to only a couple of creators, Scott Shafer (who runs a channel devoted to examining cases of fraud) has similarly claimed Nikola pushed to take down his content. While he’s not alone, there are still numerous videos available on the platform that provide castigatory takes on Nikola with plenty of views. However, most of those seem to be owned by much-larger media entities or higher profile creators, which is par for the course in these types of stories.