Akilah Hughes Blasts Buzzfeed Video for Alleged Video Theft

Her days-long #StopBuzzThieves campaign has raised some really uncomfortable questions.

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  • Online media giant Buzzfeed has been a source of simmering frustration among independent creators for some time. Now one YouTuber’s pushback is causing it to boil over — and she shows no sign of stopping.

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  • Comedian Akilah Hughes launched a blistering #StopBuzzThieves campaign against Buzzfeed Video after finding out that their recent “Perfect Weekend For An Introvert” video had a lot in common with her own video, “How To Be An Introvert — According to Tumblr.” Both have a thumbnail of a woman with a blanket over her head, and feature a shot of her watching Netflix in bed while time passes.

    It’s easy to wave this off as a coincidence — jokes about introverts are pretty common, after all — but it gets a lot harder when you see the flood of similar examples that Hughes has relentlessly collected in the past three days, with thumbnails and titles that look specifically designed to drive traffic to Buzzfeed instead of the original video.

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  • Hughes has targeted Buzzfeed’s advertisers, pressuring them to drop the company over what she sees as a blatant ripoff of smaller creators.

    “BuzzFeed has been caught repeatedly stealing ideas, jokes, bits, gags and therefore money from prominent YouTube creators. And we’ve all had enough,” she says.

    “This isn’t parody. This isn’t homage. This isn’t a coincidence. This is a deliberate initiative on Buzzfeed’s behalf to undermine the hard work of independent comedians, creators, and innovators in the online space.”

    She also highlighted a case of YouTuber Kat Blaque and other LGBTQ creators being asked to brainstorm ideas for Buzzfeed Video with no compensation, saying this allows the company’s largely white, straight, cis-gendered executives to make a profit from minority groups.

    “Young people shouldn’t have to work for cheap, or for free, or have their videos stolen for the sake of BuzzFeed’s creatively bankrupt scheme. No one should have to work for exposure. People die of exposure.”

    Buzzfeed Video hasn’t responded with an official statement yet, though several of their employees have defended themselves on Twitter. “Newton & Leibniz, without knowing each other, both invented calculus,” said Zach Kornfeld, director and producing partner at Buzzfeed Video. “Pretty nuts how that happened. But it happens.”

    Executive producer Ella Mielniczenko argued in a lengthy post that all creators on the internet build on ideas from other sources, including Tumblr, movies, comedy and literature. “Yes, it is unfortunate when two creators have the same concept — but it has happened to us. It has happened to every artistic person I know. And it will continue to happen for the rest of time.”

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  • This hasn’t satisfied Hughes and her growing number of vocal supporters. Even if it is a coincidence — and the shot-for-shot similarities in some examples make that hard to believe — they think Buzzfeed should do the research and not make videos if the concept has been done by someone else. “As an individual, it’s possible to have missed something,” Hughes said. “When you’re a $1.5 billion company you lose that excuse.”

    This is an important point for a media company that tries to be both an entertainment site and a source for legitimate journalism. As Hughes points out, it’s common practice for reporters to carefully cite their sources and double-check that they aren’t using the same angle as someone else — so it’s not a stretch to argue that this should be a company-wide policy, even if they’re just making a funny video about cats.

    The #StopBuzzThieves controversy follows YouTuber Gaby Dunn’s criticism of Buzzfeed after creators Brittany Ashley and Jenny Lorenzo were fired for working on America Ferrera’s “Gente-fied” web series without permission. Dunn said that working for Buzzfeed hindered her career as an independent creator because the company took credit for her ideas and prevented her from working on other projects.

    “Take it from me: It is not worth it. Because what happens when you either quit or are fired from one of these companies, like Ashley and Lorenzo were recently? Sure, you can put the job on your resume, but a lot of these places don’t give writers credit and take ownership of their ideas. My contract restricted me from working for competitors for a year. I gave these things away for peanuts. (Freelancers give them away for even less. When Ashley was first working on a Buzzfeed scripted series called “You Do You,” she was paid as a freelancer making $15 an hour.)”

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