In the latest viral video from Harris Brewis on his 1.3 million subscriber channel HBomberGuy posted on Saturday night, the video essayist alleges that a few large YouTube creators have been openly plagiarizing the work of authors, journalists, and other YouTubers. In the 4-hour epic, which has accumulated over 3 million views, Brewis dives into his claims that four channels have in some way plagiarized the content of others in their videos.
Some of the accusations made by Brewis have been floating around for years. Cinemassacre, the long-running channel of James Rolfe and his character, the Angry Video Game Nerd, was accused in 2021 of plagiarizing a script for his “Monster Madness” series about the movie “28 Days Later.” According to the allegations, Rolfe ripped off content from a 2003 article in the magazine Film Comment. The video was quickly taken down, and Rolfe posted an unlisted correction video claiming that somebody new on his team “fucked up.”
Blair Zoń, the voice behind Iilluminaughtii, a video essay channel with 1.3 million subscribers, had been accused by Brewis earlier this year of plagiarizing her video on mRNA from British investigative reporter Brian Deer, copying the exact wording of multiple sentences from his documentary. These accusations came after she accused lawyer YouTuber Legal Eagle of taking her editing style.
Others Brewis spoke about were less publicly known. The Internet Historian, who has four million subscribers, had to take down his original upload of “Man in Cave” after it received a copyright notice from Mental Floss, which featured an article with almost verbatim text written years prior. All three of these channels have not spoken publicly about the claims in Brewis’ video and have not returned a request for comment.
But the most egregious examples were about James Somerton, a queer media analysis channel with over 300,000 subscribers. For over half the video’s run time, Brewis shows what he claims to be a rampant pattern of plagiarism, with entire sections of over a dozen videos being ripped from articles, books, other YouTubers, and even Wikipedia.
When the video first came out, Somerton fled to his Patreon, claiming that he was “shocked” since “there was nothing new brought up in the video.” But just a day later, the post was deleted and replaced with an apology that he would be taking some time to come up with a lengthy response. Later that day, Somerton deleted his X, Discord, and Patreon accounts. His YouTube comments are also currently disabled, making him unreachable.
“I’m heartbroken that I’ve lost your trust and just hope that someday, with a lot of work, I can get it back,” Somerton said on his now-deleted Patreon on Sunday.
The response to HBomberGuy’s video has been massive, with it pulling in over 3 million views in under 48 hours. HBomberGuy and Internet Historian have been trending on X for the past day, with over 15,000 posts a piece. Other YouTubers have also shared their thoughts: Music critic Todd in the Shadows posted a nearly two-hour video debunking over 30 claims about everything from Harry Potter and Disney in Somerton videos.
“Plagiarism is something I haven’t experienced a lot of, but I know people who have; Somerton plagiarized a couple of my friends, in fact,” Todd told Passionfruit. “This job is hard; it’s really, extremely hard. It’s galling that we can put blood, sweat, and tears into our work, and then someone lazier can compile the best bits of all our work and present it as his own.”
Harris’s video has also been an opportunity for those who may have had their content grabbed to speak up. Aftermath writer Gita Jackson called Somerton the “George Santos of YouTube” after their article “Attack on Titan” was ripped off and mentioned in Brewis’ video. Freelance writer Mick Abrahamson called the video “a real wake-up call” after he realized his article on Anti-Semitism in the Harry Potter universe had also been used by Somerton without credit.
“I made $700 for the piece he lifted from me,” freelancer Katelyn Burns wrote. “I think this is the part that pissed me off the most. I felt bad about asking for money help when I was nearing homelessness and grinding out LGBTQ columns for a couple hundreds of dollars a week and this f**king guy was living the high life stealing from me and others.”
Surviving as a Creator
As a creator, you have very little protection from YouTube plagiarism. The website does have a content ID system that will automatically or manually flag videos with copyrighted content, but there are workarounds. In Brewis’ video, he shows a video from Iilluminaughtii on the Fyre Festival where she uses footage from the Netflix and Hulu documentaries without crediting, as well as blurring the watermarks and edits those videos had.
“YouTube wants everyone to work less hard and put out more stuff…This setup encourages plagiarism in a big way,” YouTuber Quinton Hoover, who runs the 830,000 YouTube subscriber channel Quinton Reviews, told Passionfruit. “The line here is as fuzzy as it could be because so many YouTube channels literally make their brand reading things out loud. Wikipedia pages, Reddit forums, and even short stories. A lot of audience members don’t care about plagiarism, and that makes it harder to fight.”
Though Hoover’s unaware of anyone ripping his eight-hour-long video essays on Nickelodeon shows, as a creator, he’s aware that it’s always a possibility. “Someone could steal your words line-by-line, and their fans would still insist it was okay, touting phrases like “fair use” without actually knowing what fair use is.”
Callouts still seem like the best solution to YouTube plagiarism, though it’s far from perfect. Multiple YouTubers made videos on the accusations of plagiarism against Iilluminaughtii when they broke in April, including Scott Niswander, the mind behind the 530,000 YouTube subscriber media critique channel NerdSync. But Blair Zoń is already back to making video essays like nothing ever happened.
“Repackaging existing books, articles, or even videos that already exist on YouTube will always be faster to churn out than creating something new,” Niswander told Passionfruit. “If people are watching plagiarized content that is monetized, I don’t think YouTube cares too much about the ethics of it at the end of the day.”
And what can YouTube really do in situations of plagiarism? If they act too quickly, or too much to take down potential bad actors, it could be considered overreach, and creators would be fearful of their already overwhelming power. Do too little, and these cheap content farms continue to game the system, essentially robbing the platform of any actual quality content.
Or as Hoover puts it, “Pretty much unless people are willing to go to court, sometimes it’s impossible to get plagiarism taken seriously online.”
Correction: A previous version of this article used incorrect pronouns for a writer. We regret the error.