On various online video sharing platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, there are millions of users who utilize the medium in order to share art, comedy, information or pieces of their lives. As online content creation has evolved, these platforms have created monetary incentives for users to create content in the form of ad revenue and partner programs.
That, in addition to sponsorships from outside sources and other forms of income such as live-streaming and merchandise, can help make content creation into a career as opposed to just a hobby. However, as is the case with many forms of art, a common difficulty among online creators is being noticed and building an audience that will consistently view their work.
Something that often helps is when a creator with a larger audience shares and promotes a smaller creator’s work on their platform, which can help generate interest. However, this is not always the case, as can be seen in a style of content that is known as “freebooting.”
What is Freebooting?
The term “freebooting” was originally used to describe acts of piracy and theft in the 1500s, but has since taken on a modernized definition in today’s online space in relation to the posting of online content.
In the modern day, freebooting is defined as posting another person’s online content on one’s own platform without receiving consent, credit or compensation. Users who freeboot receive views and engagement on their posts that could have gone to the original creators of the content.
Freebooting can take multiple forms, even something as simple as reposting without any editing or additions or reaction content that does not add anything substantial to the original work. This raises the question of what exactly makes content transformative. According to the U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index, transformative uses of content “add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work” and therefore do not violate copyright law.
The Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center states that most forms of transformative fair use content are often categorized into commentary and criticism or parody. This means that if a work uses another person’s content with the intention of criticizing or making fun of it, it could be defined as fair use.
However, there are not many specific rules, just guidelines based on case-by-case interpretations and previous court rulings.
In the case of reaction videos, if a creator’s reactions or commentary could be argued to add insight or interpretations to the original content, it would fall under fair use. If a reaction video on YouTube does not fall under fair use, it is violating the site’s terms of service and could be flagged by the copyright holder, who can ask for the video to be removed.
“No one ever attacks the male react channels”
Jacksfilms is a YouTube channel operated by John “Jack” Douglass that has been active for 17 years and originally rose to popularity through sketch and parody content. It has maintained popularity through the years with audience engagement based content such as the “Yesterday I Asked You” series where Douglass poses a question to his community and features his favorite answers in each episode.
ouglass has a history of ridiculing those who post non-transformative reaction-based content, such as Ray William Johnson, Jynx, and Leafyishere. Jacksfilms currently has 4.84 million subscribers.
On Oct. 26, 2022, Douglass posted a video titled SSSniperwolf, in which he pointed out that another creator going by the username SSSniperwolf, who currently has 34.2 million subscribers, had recently purchased a mansion.
The user’s name was Alia “Lia” Shelesh. Shelesh had risen to popularity through gaming content but had later transitioned to posting reaction videos. Douglass described Shelesh’s content and showed a clip of one of her reactions in which she read the video’s caption verbatim and gave a singular surface level comment.
Douglass revealed that he was “inspired” by Shelesh and had created a new channel named JJJacksfilms, on which he posted videos of him reacting to Shelesh’s reaction videos in a similar fashion to how she reacted to the videos she featured.
Some of the commentary is nonsense, such as “That’s not very nice, this is giving me a tummy-ache.” These videos had the intention of parodying Shelesh in order to show she added little transformative value to the videos she reacted to.
Douglass was hinting at the idea that her additions are simple and surface level. Douglass proceeded to post this form of content on the JJJacksfilms channel for the next five months.
On June 28, 2023, Shelesh publicly acknowledged the JJJacksfilms channel with multiple now-deleted tweets accusing Douglass of stealing her content and ideas, making comments on his physical appearance and implying that he was being sexist. “No one ever attacks the male react channels,” she said.
All previously mentioned reaction channels that Douglass has critiqued or parodied were operated by men, and Douglass has no record of making derogatory remarks towards Shelesh based on her gender. Douglass responded with a video on the main Jacksfilms channel titled “Sssniperwolf but every 10 seconds I read a tweet she sent me tonight,” where he watched an excerpt of one of Shelesh’s videos and paused it every 10 seconds to read one of her tweets. On July 26, Douglass posted another video to Jacksfilms titled “Let’s tttalk about Sssniperwolf,” where he went into further detail about the issues he had with Shelesh’s content.
He said Shelesh consistently did not credit the creators she features in her videos, as did not post the original links in her descriptions and often does not include watermarks that would display a username. Therefore, even if someone viewing her content wanted to see more from the original creators, the lack of a link or username could make the process of finding them more difficult and therefore hinder their growth.
Additionally, he revealed he had reached out to numerous creators who had their content featured in one of Shelesh’s videos, and all of them had told him that neither Shelesh nor her team had reached out to them to ask for consent to post their content, nor had they been offered compensation. This, in tandem with the perceived lack of transformative commentary, led Douglass to believe Shelesh’s content did not fall under fair use and was therefore freebooting.
In addition to this, Douglass took issue with the fact Shelesh’s content is often promoted on YouTube through their official social media accounts, with Shelesh even being featured as a keynote speaker during VidCon Anaheim 2023. Douglass expressed his frustration with the fact that Shelesh was able to gain money, fame, and corporate support from what he defines as theft and his worries about it setting a precedent for future content on YouTube.
Douglass then revealed that he was going to change the form of content being posted on JJJacksfilms. He said he would begin watching Shelesh’s videos on Twitch livestreams and critique her reactions by talking about what makes her videos non-transformative and what could be done to make the content more transformative.
He also said he would post edited, shortened versions of the VODs of the streams on the JJJacksfilms channel. This style of content has continued to be posted for the past three months, with two additional update videos being posted to the main Jacksfilms channel. Over time, Douglass and his viewers discovered more questionable things about Shelesh’s content, such as Shelesh cropping or cutting out part of a video to hide a caption that includes a joke in order for Shelesh to read it herself so it seemed like she came up with it.
There are moments where a video plays by itself with no footage of Shelesh reacting, and testimonies from people who were in featured videos that showed them as minors that were taken from their or a family member’s personal account without consent. As Douglass continued to stream his critiques, he started to play bingo, or “BBBingo,” with his viewers with spaces that showed moments that occurred in Shelesh’s videos. Spaces on the cards include items such as “nothing burger”, “steals someone’s joke,” “repeating what someone said but louder,” and “graphic that adds nothing.”
During the streams Douglass received stories from a number of users who had their content featured without their consent and gave them guidance on how to file copyright claims in order to have their content removed from Shelesh’s videos. Additionally, he encouraged viewers who found any of the original creators themselves to inform them of their content being reposted and of their right to make claims on the videos.
This led to the shortening of a number of Shelesh’s videos due to the claimed clips being edited out post-production. Some videos were deleted entirely.
Throughout the course of Douglass’ criticisms, Shelesh had made no moves to change the way she was creating content. Shelesh had not made any direct comment about the situation on her public platforms outside of one jab in a reaction video since the deleted tweets from June until Oct. 13.
That evening, while Douglass was live on Twitch, Shelesh posted and quickly deleted two stories to her Instagram, where she has 5.6 million followers: a selfie with a poll asking “Should I go visit @jacksfilms? He lives 5 mins away from my shoot,” and a video of the outside of the home Douglass shares with his wife with the caption “Let’s talk like adults @jacksfilms.”
The video of the outside of the home possibly contained enough information to be able to find the house’s location due to a visible house number. Therefore, by posting the video to be seen by millions of her supporters, Shelesh could have doxxed, published private information about, Douglass by leaking the location of his home.
Because Douglass is located in California, Shelesh’s doxxing could be considered a misdemeanor under California’s Penal Code section 653.2, with a maximum penalty of one year in county jail or a fine of up to $1,000.00. When he and his wife noticed Shelesh’s presence, Douglass quickly ended his livestream and deleted the VOD.
Douglass tweeted about the situation, addressing Shelesh with “What you do is disgusting. You steal content AND stalk youtubers,” and tagged YouTube’s official Twitter account to call for the demonetization or deletion of her channel. Shelesh continued to post more Instagram stories, alleging that Douglass was a “creep” who was “playing the victim when [she] wanted to talk to him.”
Many argue that Douglass had ways for Shelesh to start a conversation with him because his business email is accessible in his Twitter bio. Shelesh called the allegations of doxxing “defamation” and claimed she didn’t know how to dox someone.
Additionally, she posted a video of her scrolling through the JJJacksfilms channel and Douglass’ Twitch profile to show the amount of content he had posted about her, ending the video by asking her followers if she should obtain a restraining order. The video also included the caption “This is obsessive behavior??? Is this really the only way you can get views on YouTube??? Don’t you have a WIFE???”
The wife in question, Erin, also tweeted about the situation, bringing up how she and Douglass felt unsafe. She tagged various YouTube Twitter accounts imploring them to take action.
The couple’s posts were accompanied by thousands of Twitter users tagging YouTube’s various accounts in an attempt to make the company aware of the situation. The next day, a response came from the TeamYouTube Twitter account in the form of a reply to a user, which said, “appreciate this report. we’re passing this along rn.”
Douglass posted a video on Oct.14 to the main Jacksfilms channel titled “Sssniperwolf came to our home last night. It’s time for YouTube to step in,” calling for both YouTube and Instagram to de-platform Shelesh, emphasizing that he believed his criticisms of her content did not warrant doxxing or arriving at his home unannounced.
Shelesh had continued to post on both her Instagram and Snapchat stories the next day, with most of the posts not acknowledging the previous night’s events, save for one selfie with a friend with the caption “We show up to ur house wyd??” which were likely poking fun at the previous night’s events.
Aside from that, comments have been disabled on a multitude of Shelesh’s YouTube videos and she has not made any further public comment on her other platforms.
YouTube and Shelesh’s Response
On October 20, the TeamYouTube Twitter account announced that Shelesh had received a temporary monetization suspension on the SSSniperwolf channel, therefore preventing Shelesh from making money from videos on the channel for a limited amount of time.
They did not publically share how long the ban would last. In the statement they also said that they believed there was unwanted behavior on both sides of the situation, even though Douglass had neither broken terms of service or encouraged harassment of Shelesh, leading to further public outrage. Shelesh also posted a statement on Oct. 20, apologizing to Douglass and saying that she respected YouTube’s decision on her monetization status and thanked them for holding her accountable.
It is unknown if the ban has been lifted yet, although she has continued to upload videos. She has also continued posting on Instagram and Snapchat. However, her Twitter account currently has her tweets under a protected status.
What Comes Next
Douglass had refrained from posting on both JJJackfilms and that main Jacksfilms channel until Nov. 3, when he posted a video titled “What comes next” on JJJacksfilms. Douglass said he and Erin were in a state of fearing leaving their home and were considering moving. He stated he would change the content on JJJacksfilms again.
Instead of watching and criticizing Shelesh on stream, he would instead be accepting video submissions from smaller creators who are looking for advice and criticism on how to improve their content. He would then watch the videos on stream and give advice live. He would only be reacting to creators that submit their content with consent to be featured. That way, he would be able encourage smaller creators to develop their craft while also giving them exposure to a wider audience.
He has made no statement on whether or not he will continue criticizing large reaction channels on stream.