Illustration: Angelica Alzona
There's tension brewing in the GTA Online YouTube community, where competing creators often use similar ideas. The smaller channels involved don't think it's a coincidence: they accuse the bigger channels of stealing their creativity, profiting off their hard work, and in some extreme cases, shutting down channels that dispute anything.
RZED is a GTA V Youtuber known for starting trends: most famously, he put 100 NPCs in front of a moving plane, just to see what would happen. Despite having only 11K subscribers, that video went viral and now has nearly 2.9 million views.
A week after his video got popular, RZED observed a larger channel with over a million subscribers seemingly copy his idea, down to using the exact same title. RZED was upset. He claims he spoke to the creator, who denied the idea was stolen, but felt bad about the situation.
Judging by conversations I've had with other popular GTA V YouTubers, it is not an isolated incident, and the problem goes beyond copying the overall spirit of a video. RZED described situations where two different channels would have the same thumbnails.
I was sent dozens of links where multiple creators felt that their ideas had been copied by larger channels, with two of the most cited names being Sernandoe (1.9 million subscribers) and NoughtPointFourLive (1.1 million subscribers.)
Some quick examples include a RZED video about tow trucks that garnered 81k views, and a few days later Sernandoe had a similar video that got over 450,0000 views. Another Youtuber named Vucko showed me a video of him playing dominos with buses, and two weeks later NoughtPointFourLive shared a similar video on his channel.
I spent nearly three weeks repeatedly reaching out to both NoughtPointFourLive and Sernandoe in various ways, but neither Youtuber responded to any of my messages, nor have they made any public comments about the situation.
What makes this tricky is that YouTube doesn't always have a strong hat tipping culture. Instead, once a trend starts, big channels use popular ideas without giving anybody credit -- it happens in every niche, not just GTA YouTubers. For the people who start these waves, it's hard to know what to do: it's not as if they can ask YouTube to take videos down. It's hard to even prove that two seemingly identical videos are anything but coincidence.
Thelvaneh is a YouTuber who heavily features impressive stunts, like jumping from one plane to another He's watched his ideas proliferate on YouTube, like the time he used large construction trucks to try and the stop the train before anyone else did. A few days later other channels created videos with the same exact idea.
"I have always been open to the fact that there's a possibility of two creators coming up with the same idea, and I honestly see nothing wrong with that" TheIvaneh said. "When I first noticed someone had copied a video of mine, I believed it was a case of exactly that."
Once that ball starts rolling, it's hard to stop. TheIvaneh posted a video where he used a ramp car to launch players flying off a semi-trailer, and three weeks later another channel, GTAMissions, uploaded this video, where they do a identical looking stunt, edited in a similar manner. I've reached out to GTAMissions, but have not heard back.
TheIvaneh also pointed out that some of these videos even use his own handle, TheIvaneh, as a search tag.
"That was the first time that I felt truly robbed and angry at what was happening." said TheIvaneh, "Why should I act as a source for other and bigger creators on YouTube and make their jobs so much easier, while working my arse off day and night thinking of ways to stay original and unique only to have it all taken away and claimed by them almost immediately?"
To Sernandoe, GTAMissions and NoughtPointFourLive's credit, it's not as if they are just downloading other people's videos and then re-uploading them with a new title: there's some addition of personality, which is important on YouTube. Fans seem to love it:
Still, the situation is a major bummer to the smaller channels coming up with the original ideas, especially knowing that the larger channels are making good money on GTA content. According to the creators I spoke to, many are afraid clashing against bigger channels with more resources.
"These types of channels have contacts that can auto flag videos to take smaller YouTubers down," RZED said. According to users I spoke to, larger channels rally support from people who are willing to look up personal information of other Youtubers, and will use that information to falsely flag videos as inappropriate. Depending on the how video is flagged, it could lead to the addition of an age lock, or can be removed from Youtube entirely. The stakes are high.
One creator I spoke to, who wanted to remain anonymous out of a desire to avoid angry fan barrages, described a horror story where a big channel threw its weight around over a video dispute.
"First, they dislike all or your last couple videos," they said. "These dislikes can go into the thousands. Then my channel got flagged for having inappropriate content, which was not the case. And they found 1 mistake I made 400 videos back with incorrect tags and flagged that as well. In three days my channel was gone. Something I did for years. Gone."
I was shown older social media posts that confirmed that the creator's original channel had been removed. The creator also shared hostile tweets and messages from individuals claiming to be affiliated with bigger channels, where threats were lobbied over the issue of copied videos. These messages referenced the creator's previous channel and implied, if you don't shut up about this, we're going to make your new channel disappear via flagging too.
While it seems unlikely that any channel outright encourages fans to do their worst against competitors, once a fandom reaches a certain size, it can be hard to control. On YouTube, cult of personality rules the day, which means that the associated fandoms can be intense.
The creators I spoke with say they don't want these Youtubers to lose their channels or popularity: they just want credit. Maybe it leads to more viewers in the long run, but at the very least it would stop some of the larger headaches that come with similar videos.
"I get comments daily saying I copied these big Youtubers," explained RZED, "And I still sit at 35K subs [while] they gained hundreds of thousands from our content and dollars."
Fortunately, despite all of these setbacks, nobody seemed discouraged from making more videos for the GTA V community.
"I've gotten to a point where I try to pay less attention to what others are doing or how much content they're stealing from me,"said TheIvaneh, "Instead I focus on doing stuff they will have a harder time copying."