YouTube demonetizes lawyer Viva Frei for reading from Elon Musk defamation lawsuit court proceedings

YouTube’s demonetization rules are forcing creators to hide certain words from their videos, regardless of the context.

In recent years, YouTubers have started to increasingly self-censor because they know that saying certain words will result in instant video demonetization. For YouTubers that commentate on current events, this has created an Orwellian environment where they often can’t quote public figures or news reports because they know that doing so will cause their videos to be demonetized and suppressed on the platform.

And now lawyer Viva Frei, who often uses his YouTube channel to discuss current events from a legal perspective, has found out that this policy even applies to reading direct quotes from court proceedings.

In a recent video, where he covered the dismissal of Elon Musk’s defamation lawsuit, Frei read several sections from the court proceedings which described how Musk had referred to British caver Vern Unsworth as “pedo guy” on Twitter and showed screenshots of the court proceedings which described “Musk’s accusations of pedophilia against Mr. Unsworth without any evidence.”

Despite these words being used in the court documents, referenced in most media reports on the case, and being central to the case itself, they appear to have caused the video to get demonetized on YouTube. This means that not only will Frei earn no revenue from the video but it’s also likely to stop getting recommended to new viewers on the site.

The demonetization was also confirmed on appeal which means that a human has manually reviewed the video and decided that it should be demonetized, even after seeing the context of the words being read from court documents.

After a manual review, YouTube still decided that Frei’s video would be demonetized (YouTube - Viva Frei)
After a manual review, YouTube still decided that Frei’s video would be demonetized (YouTube – Viva Frei)

After the video was demonetized, Frei attempted to appease YouTube by blocking out the words in screenshots of the court documents and replacing all mentions of the word with clips of “the most annoying sound in the world” from Dumb and Dumber.

Frei has censored the court documents that he showed in the video (YouTube - Viva Frei)
Frei has censored the court documents that he showed in the video (YouTube – Viva Frei)

However, even after scrubbing these words from the video entirely, Frei said that it’s still demonetized.

As it stands, this leaves YouTubers who want to discuss court documents that contain words YouTube may deem to be sensitive in a tough spot. Even if these YouTubers censor the words from their videos entirely, there’s still no guarantee that they’ll be monetized.

Frei has slammed YouTube’s decision and described it as a “game of attrition through frustration” where “you can only have accredited authoritative news sources talking about certain things.”

Some of YouTube’s top creators have spoken out against YouTube demonetization. PewDiePie, the biggest solo YouTuber, warned creators that “a YouTube career could end at any point” when speaking about demonetization. And podcaster Joe Rogan described YouTube’s demonetization as an attempt to “control the way people communicate.”

But this pushback from the creator community appears to be falling on deaf ears with Frei’s case seeming to be yet another example of YouTube demonetizing a creator for including certain words in their videos without any consideration of the context.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net and provides news and analysis on how we can promote free speech, stop censorship, and protect our personal data online. [email protected]