On Saturday, Harris Brewis dropped a four-hour video about plagiarism on his Hbomberguy YouTube channel. In just a couple of days, this deep dive into claims that a few large YouTubers have taken the work of others and rebranded it as their own has pulled over 4.8 million views.
As part of the fallout from the video, James Somerton, a queer YouTuber who was the main focus of over half the video, has all but disappeared from the internet, deleting all of his socials, his Patreon, and Discord. While it’s been a very busy week for Brewis, and the post-release jitters are wearing off, he took the time to speak to Passionfruit about making the video epic, life on YouTube, and why theft is so rampant.
How did you decide to work on this project?
Well, initially, it started because six years ago, I made a video about the game ‘Bloodborne’ and someone made a video copying a piece of it pretty much wholesale, with the same editing and the same point. But their point didn’t make any sense because it was a very personal point about a friend of mine telling me a story, and I took it very seriously. It made me think more about how common it is for someone to just take something like this, and it turned out to be shockingly common.
Why was James Somerton such a large part of your video?
It was the overwhelming nature of what he stole from people, activists who died doing the activism that he stole, people who were never paid for their work. Genuinely, the damage that he’s done to queer writing on the internet has been tremendous. I’ve seen people citing him in other essays or podcasts. I think Todd in the Shadows made a video about this too, and he opens with a podcast where one of the most famous activists in America is citing James Somerton, and he’s citing specifically a thing Somerton I believe stole. And this is excruciating. He needs to be spoken about in detail so that he can’t hide from it again because when people bring this up, he attacks them. I also thought this needs to be made into an example. This needs to show how bad this can get if you tell people it’s okay.
How long did the video take to make?
On and off, I probably worked on this video for close to a year, researching all the various parts and writing it. I started out wanting to make something else, like making several good videos this year instead of one bad one, but then it just slowly absorbed me more and more.
How do you feel about the video’s response?
Completely overwhelmed. Last year, I made a video that was three hours, 33 minutes, and 33 seconds, which to me, was too long. I thought it would be funny. I wanted people to stop watching the video and for me to get a signal that I should stop. And then 10 million people watched it. I thought, ‘Oh, well, I guess this isn’t the line.’ So I made a thing about a single sound effect and just went insane about the guy who pretended to have made it and people like that. And this time, I thought, ‘Okay, seriously, you don’t have to watch my videos or watch me. I’m just going to go hog wild about this plagiarism thing.’
And now it’s been rewarded more than any of my previous videos. And I don’t know how to feel. I’m a little bit overwhelmed because I keep trying to sort of let my guard down and accept failure in advance and then it keeps doing well. There’s probably a lesson here about how if you prepare for failure, you’re more likely to succeed or something.
Around the time of your last videos, YouTube started liking those hours-long videos so it seems like you kind of lucked into a formula.
It’s absurd how 90 minutes was too long three or four years ago, and now I’m at the point where when I make fun of a video for being eight hours long, I get people saying that I’m against long-form content. The vibe has changed so much. I think there’s something to be said for how YouTube’s algorithm overly rewards watch time, which is bad if the video is very long because, obviously, your watch time is longer than if you make a very good 10-minute video.
Do you think there are other James Somerton’s on YouTube?
I think there must be, It’s too easy to get away with. There are so many ways you could do this and make it almost plausible that you made it. People are trying to figure out how to get away with not having to write their own stuff. James Somerton is not an intelligent man. He made so many obvious mistakes that he’d find and replace words in quotes, just obviously stupid. Someone smarter than him could be rich as hell doing what he does.
When I make a mistake as a writer, in theory, I have an editor. And if I plagiarized, I’d receive some sort of punishment, but it’s not the same on YouTube.
There’s no system for punishing it. Not that there necessarily should or could be, in fact, but even worse, there’s a reward for it. If you interestingly start drama, people will consume that content. So, in effect, YouTube is probably one of the most evil platforms in the world because it specifically rewards being terrible and starting fights in a way that is extremely disconcerting for the future of the human race. And I’m not saying that as a joke.
In the video, you briefly make a joke about Hasan and React content, which has become a hot-button topic in the last few months.
It’s extremely adjacent to it. I don’t know why anyone watches streamers or consumes react content or why anyone would make it. But I do find the content unethical. I think when someone streams themselves reacting or just watching a video, that makes sense. If people are there to watch that person, ultimately, you’re engaging with that person’s life. That’s just lived-in content. If you want to spend eight hours in a person’s room with them, they’re going to watch a YouTube video, and you’re going to watch them watch it. When it gets weird is when those clips get re-uploaded onto the platform the original video was on for money, especially when they aren’t even really watching the video. And then the people who made that video and put all that work in have to compete on the same platform with a guy watching it in his room. And that’s absurd.
I’m okay with Hasan watching my videos, I think that’s cool. Where it gets weird is he lets anyone upload clips of his streams. So he’s not even directly profiting from uploading react content except in the sense that it spreads his brand. And I felt bad making the joke about him in the video because I know the channel isn’t technically his, but he does approve of them existing. I reached out to him to say, I wrote this joke before react content became a big hot-button topic, and I wanted to leave it in because I thought it was funny. And I think he was a bit worried about the effect it would have, and it seems to have had an effect. So there we go.