Local artists’ failure to understand YouTube exposes them to online content theft

YouTube, Internet Video

Zimbabwean artists are perpetual victims of piracy just like every other artist in the digital age.


This story is best told by the street side vendor or unlicensed distributor who profits on artists’ creative efforts under the guise of  “entrepreneurship” while using simple technology to sell content they have no rights to for a fraction of its value.

However, these sorts of crimes aren’t just being committed by the CD and DVD vendors on the streets. Even on the internet, some people are denying artists their dues through the distribution of content that they do not own.


Millions of people rely on platforms like Soundcloud and YouTube to access everything from the latest hit record to an obscure track from an artist who’s been forgotten by radio. They offer people free access to content that can be streamed as long as a user has internet access.

For platforms like YouTube, part of the deal, though, is that anyone accessing the content is exposed to adverts which help pay for the content by giving the owners some kind of return for watching that video or listening to that song.

As a result, whoever puts up a video can register as its owner and in the process can generate some revenue from all those adverts through every view. This model has shaped the access to free content online and it’s all fairly straightforward.

The problem arises when people who do not own the content put it up on their own channels and generate views for something they did not create or do not have rights to.

Views matter in the world of free digital content, so much that there is a price actually put on them. Denying a content creator access to those views is literally theft. Several Zimbabwean artists have fallen victim to this.

Winky D
The Gaffer, Winky D’s videos are not secured, creating room for others to share his content.

Household names and local superstars like Killer T and Oliver Mtukudzi, as well as the horde of yesteryear superstars like Leonard Dembo, John Chibadura, the Bhundu Boys and Plaxedes Wenyika have content that has appeared on scattered YouTube channels with different users generating views that could be converted into revenue by the creators themselves.

Alarming cases can be noted from Sungura and Zim Dancehall which are undeniably the two most popular types of music in the country. Content created by artists from these genres is accessible from different channels which garner hundreds of thousands of views per video.

Some channels like Musimboti and Proud Zimbo have even emerged as hotspots for Zimbabwean content, with numerous videos from different artists generating views for these channels and not for the artists themselves.

Even in cases where some relationship exists between the artist and the owners of the aggregation channel (examples of record labels’ YouTube channels fall into this group) the way the same videos on these channels end up being uploaded on third party channels shows how the property is never secured in the first place.

The entire practice can be avoided if artists only take the time to learn the essentials of content distribution online. Where artists cannot do it themselves, their managers are the ones who are supposed to assume that responsibility.

The process would involve creating the artist’s own official channel, registering ownership of material that is shared on the account and ultimately preventing anyone else from putting up the same song or video from a different account without their permission.

When another account tries to do this, the platform will, after identifying any similarities with any other content that is registered under another name and creator, prevent any further use of that song or video unless permission is granted.

Securing future revenues through technology

This sad situation surrounding YouTube content rights has been blamed on different factors. According to some people in the industry, the greatest challenge for artists is learning the basics of the internet as a music business tool as well as the revenue opportunity that comes with securing digital intellectual property rights.

As it stands, the money generated from YouTube advertising on content is paltry, and it only becomes substantial when a high number of views are generated on each piece of content. This has resulted in a lot of local artists writing off streaming revenue as a potential money earner.

According to Hope Masike, one of the local artists who have taken measures to secure content through official online distribution channels like YouTube, as well as Apple’s iTunes; when pressed with the need for immediate answers to the financial strains of managing a music career, digital channels that don’t have “substantial” immediate returns are usually ignored.

The same sentiment was echoed by a local producer, Begotten Sun, who says that instead of securing their great work online, artists sadly concentrate their efforts on low-hanging fruit revenue streams like live performances and whatever customised CD and DVD distribution model an artist can figure out on their own.

It all makes sense as an immediate business decision, but it’s a huge sacrifice of future revenues and the pleasure of the never ending returns on work that was crafted and perfected in the past.

When content isn’t secured, not only is the paltry revenue not realised, but other people can make money off it, either through views or even registering it as their own.

The reality of that nightmare hasn’t hit home for any artist as yet, but in the world of music and entertainment, there’s no telling what a sample from a song can be turned into by another artist a few years down the road.

An opportunity currently exists for people with the passion and understanding to step up and work with artists and their management, helping distil the opportunity of online video content distribution and intellectual property security.

The work done in this respect would secure content that is created now for future monetisation prospects. It’s hardly a play for revenue now, but as long as platforms like YouTube exist, it’s something that needs to be taken seriously.

Update – We had previously mentioned Winky D as one of the artists without an official YouTube account which wasn’t accurate. His official account is Winky Online. 

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8 thoughts on “Local artists’ failure to understand YouTube exposes them to online content theft

  1. An artist cannot control who posts what on YouTube, even if an artist has their own channel. If I want to, I can post Adele’s music video, there’s not much she can do besides report me to YouTube, which is what artists should do when they disapprove of their content being posted online. Not everyone wants to have a YouTube channel FYI. Most international artists don’t have their own music channels either.

    Blaming the artist for someone elses un-authorised and illegal post of a video is no different to blaming a wife for a husbands prostitution. Hold the offender to blame, in as much as one party may directly or indirectly contributed to the result.

    1. YouTube can analyze the content in a video as soon as it is uploaded, and if the content has been copyrighted or blocked on YouTube by the owner, it is automatically blocked. Try uploading a clip of “Three Idiots”, and see it vanish as soon as it finishes uploading. No reporting necessary, unless you hide the video behind a frame and filter the auidio and the like. In most cases, the copyright owners allow the content to be used on YouTube, but put adverts on the uploader’s video with the revenue going to the copyright owner.
      And locally ZMC does that, or at least did, with popular music tracks. Even if you just use a song as soundtrack for your video. These guys should just embrace technology, and make money off their work

      1. You have indicated that (and how) the copyright filters can be bypassed, so what’s the point of your response. As well, in which cases do copyright owners allow people to upload their content? Not policing a person who has violated your copyright is not equivalent to granting permission. Permission is granted explicitly!

  2. Great article. I agree with you kuti Youtube is a great option for revenue generation. However its not as simple as that, and here are my reasons why artists seem to neglect it.
    1) To be able to generate even $50 an artist will need like 40 000-60 000 views and only a few percentage of our local artists can reach that frequently.
    2) You-tubing is a full time job and that means an artist will need to employ someone to do that for him and currently a few can afford that.
    3) Some artists esp dancehall artists actually support other people sharing their tracks on YouTube as that gives them more reach & exposure for free. Dancehall is growing because you can find every track even a new artist who started singing today you can find his song, so why wld they copyright and forgo such exposure.
    4) There are costs incurred in ensuring your track is copyrighted and a few can afford those charges. imagine if either Killer T, Soul Jah Love or Seh Calaz decide to insure their tracks, they will need thousands just to copyright them.
    5) For some artists they would have agreed or allowed certain channels to upload their music. That’s why some artists are not even complaining.
    6) On the other hand some of the music is copyrighted and all the revenue goes to the artists but they just don’t choose to take down the unofficial upload, in that case its more like u have a volunteer to do marketing for u for free. A lot of artists do so and in my view that’s a much clever option, leave them with the copy but all the cash comes to you.

    So in conclusion a lot is happening behind the scenes that we not privy of. Its a mixture.

  3. Ichokwadi chawanyora. But i concur with Imi Vanhu Musadaro, an artist cannot fully control who uploads because even in the most developed countries, fans still upload tracks. Worse off the fact that most tracks esp Zim Dancehall is given for free anyone can jus upload.

    Also as Another Proud Zimbo stated, its not all copies that you see on youtube ekuti munhu a uploader ndiye anowana cash. if its copyrighted any cent from that copy inoenda kumuridzi or to the label.

    Lastly that Winky D online acc is fake…WINKY had hundreds of songs ipo pane like 7 tracks chete, uhhhhmmm.

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