Copyright Claims are Online Video’s Most Hated Tool — Unless You’re an Ex-Vine Star

Copyright claiming allows the Vine stars of yesteryear to pay rent from their social media fame

Luke Winkie
Oct 9, 2019 · 4 min read
Image: Chris Stokel-Walker

Chloe Woodard has been thriving in syndication for three years now. The Chicago actor and artist first made their name as one of the many amateur comedians uploading short, eccentric sketches to Vine during the social media platform’s brief millennial golden age.

Their most famous addition to the canon was a flip of A-Ha’s “Take On Me,” which featured a bracefaced, tie-dye shirt donned band geek as the central character. Unlike other video apps, Vine offered no methods for creators to monetize their creations, so Woodard never made a cent on any of her seven-second videos when they initially uploaded them. But years later, long after Vine went offline, they’re receiving a monthly stipend for the residual clicks their work continues to earn in the platform’s afterlife, in the same way Michael Richards, Julie Louis-Dreyfus, and Jerry Stiller earn passive mailbox-money every time a Seinfeld rerun airs.

“I’m able to pay rent just off of [Vines] and pay for groceries,” says Woodard, from their Chicago home. “I hate saying this because it makes me sound so dumb, but I haven’t had to have a second job, because of the royalties. It’s helped me a lot to pursue other things that I care about, without having to worry about money.”

Their life changed in 2016, after she signed on with the internet influencer mega-agency, Collab. One of Collab’s primary assets is a service called CollabDRM, which automatically scans YouTube for any instances where a creator’s content has been reuploaded without the author’s consent.

This practice has become increasingly common in the years after Vine went offline. Today, ancient Vines are consumed en masse via YouTube compilations, usually equipped with pithy names like “Vines that toast my buns.” That video alone has over 19 million views. Clearly, there was money to be made.

Once Woodard was in the system, anyone hosting their Vines under a different channel immediately saw the AdSense revenue redirected towards Woodard’s bank account.

Collab didn’t respond to repeated inquiries for comment for this story, but multiple former Vine stars say they are happy users of Collab’s service.

Cole Hersch, best known for the “I’m 27” Vine, has been able to cover each month’s rent and utilities for a room in Los Angeles. Gabriel Gundacker of the famed Zendaya is Meechee Twitter meme, said that his rent was covered “for a few years” by his Vine checks.

“If someone is making money off of my Vines, I’d rather it be me than a stranger who’s sole contribution was hitting ‘upload’,” says Gundacker. Internet video, especially short-form internet video, has long been easily pirated and eagerly plundered. But now, some of its brightest stars have discovered a way to finally get paid off for work they did years ago.

Each Viner I spoke to for this story says the money in these stipends has increased since Vine closed at the beginning of 2017. (Its creator, Dom Hofman, is launching a new shortform video app shortly.) Now that Vine is gone, the only way to enjoy, say, “Look at all these chickens,” is through reuploads on a service like YouTube.

Hersch has been signed on with Collab since 2014, and in those days the cash that CollabDRM was generating him was fairly negligible. The platform’s untimely expiration was an ironic boost to his bottom line. “When I first signed I never expected to make much from it, because I was like, ‘Why would anyone want to watch my Vines on YouTube when the app still exists and will never ever die?’” he says.

“It seems like the longer Vine’s been dead, the greater the nostalgia for it grows,” adds Hersch.

In the years since it was shuttered, Vine has earned a special place in the collective consciousness. Old Vines have taken on a similar standing to old TV reruns. Gen Xers might settle into an old episode of Friends to remember the good old days. Gen Zers, on the other hand, might catch up with the Vines they loved in middle school.

“[Vine] ended when people were still invested in it, so the surviving videos have a nostalgic quality that a tweet from 2013 could never have,” says Gundacker. “Because those platforms still exist, older content from them feels dated, whereas Vine was granted this weird time-capsule quality.”

Naturally, the Viners know the gravy train won’t run forever. Hersch brings up TikTok, which has captured the spirit of Vine and has taken it truly mainstream. Eventually he thinks that TikTok may siphon away his constant trickle of clicks, as people turn to a more modern platform to “get their short-video fix.” Woodard has made their peace with this. “I think it will slow down. But I’m not worried about it. It’s given me enough time now to prepare to do some things later. By the time that happens, I think it won’t really matter,” they say.

Of course, intellectual property law has a bad rep in the world of online video. On YouTube, copyright claims been weaponized, and are the subject of litigation against the platform. But for a tight, cloistered group of Viners, revenue-sharing systems can build them a nest egg. As questionable as it is for Iron Maiden to claim an 11-minute video for using 15 seconds of a song, people like Woodard, Hersch, and Gundacker are able to use those same tools in a way that feels more ethical.

“When you’re just reuploading the same content with nothing new added, I think it’s a little different. When you’re just uploading someone else’s content, I think [the original creator] should get credit for that,” says Woodard. If nothing else, it’s the most money anyone can make in seven seconds or less.

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