In one very creepy corner of Reddit, a war over content theft is raging.
On Monday morning, r/NoSleep – a fiction-based, first-person horror subreddit with almost 14 million subscribers – went private for a week. At the time of writing, anyone visiting the sub is greeted by the following message.
It’s no exaggeration to say that a huge number of people will be affected by this closure.
According to the tracking tool Reddit Metrics, Reddit is currently home to almost two million subreddits – and in terms of subscriber count, NoSleep is in the top 50 overall. The stories posted there regularly receive thousands of upvotes (the all-time most upvoted story has around 38,000), and a huge number of new stories are posted each day.
Thousands of readers across the world, many of whom check in for their nightly dose of scares, will be met with the above message.
So what is the closure all about, and how did it start? As a horror writer and regular NoSleep poster myself, I’ve been following the situation as it’s unfolded.
The fight for fair compensation.
Although the closure of NoSleep was only announced a week ago, its roots go back further.
At the start of February, British horror writer and NoSleep contributor T-Jay Lea created something called The Writers Blackout – a “movement designed to help authors receive fair compensation from YouTube narrators via direct mediation and/or advice from experienced writers,” according to the pinned FAQ at the top of the subreddit’s page.
Like many NoSleep writers, Lea has firsthand experience with this issue. Back in 2012, during a creative writing lesson at university, Lea wrote a short horror story called The Expressionless. At the encouragement of a friend, he decided to upload it to the CreepyPasta Wikia.
“Within 24 hours it had exploded,” Lea told Mashable. “I mean *explodedto the point that Twitter was freaking out over it, Snopes had to run a debunking article on it and YouTube influencers left, right and centre were jumping on it to react.”
Lea described the fallout as immediate and everlasting. “YouTube culture was different in those days and attributing works for free was just a given, nobody thought about the consequences,” he explained. “Even when they asked permission, I just agreed and thought exposure was better. I was naive, as so many bright-eyed writers and performers are when they get thrust into such a bright spotlight.”
The outcome, Lea explained, was a lot of people trying to profit off his work. Some took it without credit, while others said they couldn’t afford to pay him. And as Lea saw more and more people narrating, sharing and adapting The Expressionless, he started growing more and more frustrated. For a while, he said, it even killed his love of writing.
“Over the last few months, I have moved to taking several narrators to task when finding out they used my work without my permission, in every single case I was successful and got my rightful compensation,” Lea said. “It was what helped the Blackout get its start; leading by example.”
So far, Lea said, the Blackout is progressing well. Writers involved in the movement have made contact with large YouTube narrators like Mr. Creeps, and negotiations with other narrators are ongoing.
“Ultimately, we want to achieve a standard baseline of pay for all writers when negotiating with any content creator that makes substantial profit on various platforms, build bridges with smaller or non-profit channels that can foster good relations as they grow, educate writers on what constitutes fair rates for their work (online adaptations pay differently to a publication, for example), educate narrators on copyright laws, and ensure everyone benefits,” Lea said.
NoSleep going dark.
Despite progress, not everything has been plain-sailing. While the movement has received widespread support, there have also been dissenting voices. Arguments have broken out on Twitter. Craig Thompson, a YouTuber known as Mini Ladd, issued a public apology after his channel was threatened with deletion due to the copyright strikes it received from NoSleep writers. Thompson tweeted about the scheduled deletion but didn’t obscure the name of the author who’d filed the final strike, which led to them being harassed by Thompson’s fans (he later deleted the tweet and admitted his mistake). Thompson addressed the writers directly in his final Twitter video, saying he’d love to work with them to find a resolution. Mashable has reached out to Thompson for comment on this, and we will update this article if we receive a response.
Meanwhile, watching all of this unfold was 33-year-old Christine Druga from Pennsylvania – NoSleep’s head moderator. And after witnessing everything that was happening with The Writers Blackout, she decided to suggest something big.
“After a particularly rough week involving our authors having their content stolen, I had the idea of shutting down the subreddit so that the content thieves couldn’t see it to take it,” Druga told Mashable. “Just kind of an angry, irrational thought that grew into an actual idea.”
The moderators took a vote, and an announcement was posted last week. On Monday morning, NoSleep went private.
Druga explained that the main objective of this closure is to raise awareness of the problem.
“So many people think that, because the stories are free to read, they’re also free to use,” she said. “This is not the case at all. The stories are protected by copyright law the moment they are posted. We’re hoping that closing the subreddit will not only make those who take the content without permission, credit, and/or compensation see that they’ve been doing it wrong and change their ways, but that fans of both r/NoSleep (and anywhere that r/NoSleep content has been shared) will learn about the issue as well so that they can properly support the authors.”
At the time of writing the subreddit has only been shut for a day, but Druga said the reaction has already been overwhelmingly positive.
“There have been a few people who think that closing the subreddit down is too much for too little and those who think it won’t do anything at all, but for every complaint about it we’ve seen 100 messages of support,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible.”