Since its launch in 2005, the video streaming service YouTube has grown into a primary destination for people to access audio-visual content. It is now the second most popular website on the internet, behind only Google, and offers a wide range of videos providing entertainment, education, news and current events, and how-to tutorials.

While YouTube was originally a place for individuals to upload videos, it has now been embraced by the mainstream media and most of the major broadcasters post content to the site. As of May 2019, more than 500 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute and more than one billion hours of content is watched each day.

There are now thousands of content creators who are able to build successful businesses by creating videos for YouTube. Swedish creator Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie, has more than 100 million subscribers to his YouTube channel with a reported annual income of US$15 million or more.

The Revenue Model

For many YouTube creators, the transition from unpaid part-time amateur to full-time revenue-earning professional has happened in a relatively short period of time. Even one "viral" video that attracts tens of thousands of views can bolster a creator's popularity and ability to earn revenue.

YouTube creators can earn revenue in a number of different ways. They can share in the advertising revenue that is generated by the advertisements that run before and during videos. Many popular YouTubers, who are sometimes referred to as "influencers," enter into sponsorship deals with companies that are looking to leverage the platform's growing popularity, especially if they want to reach a younger audience. Many YouTubers have also introduced their own line of merchandise such as T-shirts, coffee mugs and bobble head dolls.

In addition to earning revenue directly from YouTube, most creators are also very active on other social media platforms, including Instagram and Twitter, to build audience engagement and create a sense of community among their subscribers and fans. Some have even ventured into more traditional forms of video, published books and appeared in television programs and movies.

Launchpad for Multi-Media Careers

Canadian Lilly Singh, who was listed in 2017 as one of the top-10 earning YouTube stars, has transitioned to late-night television with her own talk show, A Little Late with Lilly Singh, which premiered in September on NBC in the United States and on Global in Canada.

Videos dedicated to computer gaming are a popular sub-genre on YouTube. In addition to game reviews and news from the gaming industry, there are creators who post videos of themselves playing video games, often with amusing commentary.

Another social media platform that caters to the gaming community is Twitch, owned by Amazon. Creators can live-stream their game playing on Twitch while dozens, hundreds or even thousands of fans watch online. This platform lets the "streamers" interact in real-time with their fan base. Fans can subscribe to their favourite creators and can make instant monetary donations.

Fasken Ottawa, which has been home to Canada's leading broadcasting and telecommunications practice for more than 30 years, has evolved its services to adapt to the emergence of the online video market as a complement to more traditional television services. For the past several years, Fasken has been a major sponsor of Buffer Festival, an annual Toronto film festival which features the work of YouTube creators. Our lawyers have also been active in providing legal information sessions to online video creators, covering topics such as intellectual property, corporate organization and contract issues.

The Legal Side of Creativity

Fasken has developed a package of services specifically designed to meet the legal needs of our video creator clients. This is based on the firm's very successful program for startup companies in the emerging technology market. We offer a range of services, including incorporation, standard form agreements and trademark registration. These services are provided on a fixed-fee basis and the fees are paid over time.

Our package of services for the online video creator is specifically designed to help make the process of accessing legal services less intimidating. Many online video producers focus on the creativity of their projects and may not be thinking about the potential legal issues that can arise or the significant risk they can face from not addressing those issues at the outset. We take the time to explain these various legal issues and to tailor the package of services to meet each creator's specific needs.

Without the appropriate advice and guidance, an online video creator could face significant monetary damages for copyright or trademark infringement, or libel. They might also miss out on the advantages from adopting certain types of business structures, or end up in costly and damaging disputes if working relationships with partners are not set out in carefully negotiated agreements and contracts.

With the right suite of legal services, a video creator can steer clear of any pitfalls as they develop their personal brand and build an audience for their content.

Jay Kerr-Wilson is a partner with the Fasken Ottawa office and co-leader of the firm's Technology, Media and Telecommunications group. He practices primarily in the areas of communications and public law, with a particular emphasis on copyright.

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