Back in October, a few weeks before Halloween, a trending story on Facebook caught my eye. It said that all episodes of the 1990s Nickelodeon TV show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” were available on YouTube.

As a 90s kid, I loved the show. In fact, I own all 7 seasons on DVD. I purchased them because I wanted to re-watch the show with my brothers. My youngest brother had never seen them. It was a lot of fun.

When I saw the Facebook trending story, I immediately thought that something probably wasn’t right. Sure enough, that was the case. The clips that were being linked to were very clearly on unauthorized channels. For anyone who is familiar to show, that also possesses a modicum of common sense and internet savvy, it took only a few seconds to realize this.

Looking the Other Way

And yet, an astonishing collection of seemingly legitimate outlets wrote about the existence of these clips on YouTube. It may have began with Complex, inspired by a list of episodes published on reddit. But once it was trending, you had names like The A.V. Club, The Huffington Post, Mashable, E! Online, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Indiewire and Newsday all tripping over one another to publish a quick post, in an effort to cash in on the rush of traffic.

They talked about the clearly pirated clips. They linked to them. They embedded them. And, of course, they slapped their ads all about them.

I think you have to really question the judgment of these writers and their editors (if applicable). The writers can’t claim ignorance. They are familiar with the program. They are all capable of viewing the YouTube pages where these videos were linked. I don’t believe these writers are stupid people. That would lead me to believe they were well aware of all of this – and published the article anyway.

Guess what? All of those clips are now gone. No surprise. But the posts remain, cashing in a little bit more with every pageview.

What This Should Mean for Communities

I wanted to use this story as an example of something I think that smart moderators should always keep in mind. Just because something is on YouTube does not mean that it is OK from a copyright perspective. While it’s not reasonable for anyone to expect us to be aware of the copyright status of every piece of media posted on our community, I do believe it is our duty not to be ignorant. Or, worse, make a conscious choice to be unaware, while happily cashing checks and looking at our traffic logs until someone makes a formal report to us.

We are a technically savvy bunch, so let’s act like it. We know that when companies release media, they generally release them through recognized channels. And it is fairly easy to spot when something may be amiss. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize that Nickelodeon (as well as other companies involved) probably won’t be releasing their TV shows on a collection of random YouTube channels with names like StuffofNightmares, Meredith Blake, ShelbyWooMysteries and Daniel Lonewolf.

Thinking that something is OK just because it is on YouTube is like thinking an article is OK to publish on your community just because a member copied and pasted it into a forum thread. It’s lazy, unethical and, long term, damages your credibility and the credibility of your community. Though unlikely (unless you are particularly blatant) to create legal issues, it’s certainly possible that you might get caught up in something, especially if there is no good faith effort being made. Country laws will vary, but in the U.S., your true intent does have an impact on your ability to claim protections under the law.

The legal issue, while important, takes a back seat for me to the idea of treating others as I would like to be treated. We all know how we would like others to treat what we create and what our community members create. My approach is an extension of that, and I believe in being proactive.