‘Stop in the Name of the Vimeo Law’

Vimeo tries to shut down crowdsourced Fatal Farm Robocop project

Over the weekend, the entertainment company Fatal Farm had some surprising news for its fans over Twitter. Best known for the deliberately weird YouTube channels Infinite Solutions and Lasagna Cat, Fatal Farm also maintains a Vimeo channel, mostly for professional reasons. But after twelve years, Vimeo gave Fatal Farm an ultimatum. Their contribution to the crowdsourced Robocop remake project was too popular, having accumulated some 4.8 million views since it was first published seven years ago. The full 2014 crowdsourced Robocop remake, which is also available on Vimeo, featured 55 filmmaking teams with their own unique spins on the classic movie’s iconic scenes. For this bandwidth hogging, Vimeo told Fatal Farm they needed to pay $10,000 a year to keep the account or Vimeo would ban them.

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In the end, cooler heads prevailed. Following an outpouring of support on social media for Fatal Farm, Vimeo convened an emergency meeting to grant Fatal Farm a reprieve to this particular policy. But the whole bizarre incident raises further questions. What kind of video website has a policy designed to extort money from the producers of user-driven content that bring in too many users?

Fatal Farm isn’t the first such channel to fall afoul of these rules. Botchamania, a channel dealing with botches in professional wrestling, received a similar takedown notice from Vimeo last year in April. Unlike Fatal Farm, Botchamania did not get a last minute reprieve. Also unlike Fatal Farm, Botchamania did not have a single unusually popular video driving the traffic. According to Matthew Gregg, the typical Vimeo video only had around 17,500 views.

The baffling situation has its origins in how Vimeo, despite seeming like a competitor to YouTube, isn’t really, having evolved to take over a completely different niche. Where Vimeo once had a reputation as an artsier platform, with fewer restrictions on content, they’re now better known for catering to corporations with deeper pockets. Specifically, they host for seminars and training videos which aren’t intended for public consumption and which companies lock behind passwords. In addition, smaller companies that can’t afford their own private film screening services will often link to press screeners via Vimeo, which they also secure via passwords.

For smaller media companies like Fatal Farm and Botchamania, the main appeal for having Vimeo accounts at all has traditionally been their lack of content restriction. Jeffrey Max of Fatal Farm has described YouTube as a generally impenetrable monolithic entity that can be quite aggressive with punitive takedown notices. Jeffrey Max doesn’t think the Robocop video could have made it past YouTube’s terms of service, and he’s probably right. The very silly video, which you can see here, opens up as a straight retelling of the famous scene where Robocop saves a woman by shooting through her dress to hit a prospective rapist in the crotch. The take the joke to ludicrous extremes, as more would-be rapists appear, all of whom Robocop crotch-shoots, most of them explicitly, as we watch the dicks explode.

The uncensored video is fairly obviously inappropriate for YouTube, although whether YouTube would be more offended by the exploding dicks or the deliberate similarity to a copyrighted film is an open question. The enduring popularity of the Robocop video is actually pretty logical. It’s not the kind of content you can get on YouTube. The full crowdsourced Robocop remake is also on Vimeo. You can see it here, at least for now. As Vimeo isn’t a site that relies on viral popularity to make money, they may one day look at bandwidth costs associated with the full film and decide hosting it isn’t worth the money, much as they briefly decided with the Fatal Farm segment.

Fatal Farm isn’t in the viral video business either, at least not when it comes to Vimeo. Like many vendors, they really on Vimeo chiefly as a means to host commercials, music videos, or television clips they’ve worked on to show to potential clients as an example of their work. The attempt by Vimeo to extract a rental fee from Fatal Farm, even if they ultimately backed down, is demonstrative of an unfortunate reality of the web as we know it today. Content creators are at the mercy of platforms, and everything boils down to money even if the platforms themselves do everything they can to avoid admitting it.

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William Schwartz

William Schwartz is a reporter and film critic based in Seoul, South Korea. He writes primarily for HanCinema, the world's largest and most popular English language database for South Korean television dramas and films.

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