By now, most everyone with an internet connection has heard that BuzzFeed has gone through some major layoffs in the past months. Roughly 15% of the people who worked to make some of the most recognizable and widespread content out there have lost their jobs along with all of the work that they put into their videos over the years.
The recent Buzzfeed layoffs have been described by both those within and outside the company as unfair, immoral and wrong. They provide strong evidence of the need for digital creators to unionize, which they since have made strides towards. The employees let go from BuzzFeed and the circumstances surrounding their departure make for an indisputably depressing story, but it also speaks volumes about a much broader subject: the relationship between content and creator.
One of the most alluring things about YouTube to a creator is the independence it offers. Those looking to work on creative new projects don’t have to worry about reporting to anyone, following anyone else’s guidelines or ever not being in total control of their own content. For years, creators have cited this as one of the highlights of pursuing YouTube as a creative industry instead of more mainstream outlets like television or film.
BuzzFeed has now set a dangerous precedent that undermines this creative control entirely.
Despite how you may feel about the content that BuzzFeed puts out, there is no denying its popularity. With millions of subscribers over more than a dozen distinct channels, the massive media company has one of the largest platforms out there. Subsequently, it has become intensely appealing to anyone looking to make it big in the field. Creators around the world would jump at the chance for a position at BuzzFeed in the hopes of making content under the BuzzFeed brand.
However, as soon as someone signs on, anything they make no longer belongs to the creator; it now belongs to BuzzFeed.
The practice of signing off intellectual property to a company you’re working for is by no means a new one, or even inherently problematic. If you work for a video game developer, and you work to develop a video game as part of the job, that’s going to belong to the developer, not to you. That’s about as far as an analogy will go, though, thanks to the definitively personal aspects of the content that has been signed off to BuzzFeed from their creators.
BuzzFeed is known for its whimsical quizzes and click-baity listicles, but it has also become so much more. The video producers there have created moving pieces about personal struggles with deep meanings, anecdotes and advice and have even developed entirely new techniques that revolutionized the digital media industry. Top-down text-based cooking tutorials? That internet staple was the brainchild of a BuzzFeed employee. A former BuzzFeed employee.
Similarly, all of this content that was so distinctly tied to the creators is property of the company itself, and BuzzFeed is continuing to profit off of these works even after brutally severing the people who brought them to life. Even after being let go, some producers are still appearing in backlogged videos, allowing the company to rake in the views and ad money from the personal works of their ex-employees. Series that were pioneered by creators no longer at BuzzFeed have continued on with new cast members, while the people who made these projects possible are entirely separated from what they worked so hard to cultivate.
BuzzFeed laying off their creators while retaining the rights to their work and even working to further the projects of ex-employees sends a dangerous message to those remaining in the company and all hopeful digital content producers out there: If they look to a massive company to further their career, they run the risk of losing it all at the whims of an emotionless corporation. Digital media is still a veritable Wild West, but measures need to be put in place to protect creators and their rights to their own work. It’s simply unethical and unfathomable for a company to send the people who made their success possible into unemployment while still profiting, in perpetuity, from the ground they’ve laid.
Digital media is still a veritable Wild West, but measures need to be put in place to protect creators and their rights to their own work. It’s simply unethical and unfathomable for a company to send the people who made their success possible into unemployment while still profiting, in perpetuity, from the ground they’ve laid.