Meet the German crossbow YouTuber fighting video giant for rights

At his out-of-the-way house in the forested German hills, Jörg Sprave spends his time building mutant crossbows and powerful slingshots – and hounding one of the world's biggest technology companies.

Meet the German crossbow YouTuber fighting video giant for rights
Photo: DPA

The 54-year-old has for years uploaded clips of his ever-wackier projectile-throwing creations to YouTube, where hundreds of millions of views and 2.4 million subscribers put him in the top 50 channels nationwide.

But years of hard blows to those making their living on the platform have turned him into a campaigner against YouTube itself, claiming to have enlisted some 26,000 fellow creators worldwide in a fight for better conditions and the unexpected backing one of Germany's biggest unions.

“I'm not fighting for myself, I'm fighting because I love YouTube, and I fear that the management's mistakes are endangering it,” Sprave said.

Sprave and the members of his “YouTubers' Union” Facebook group aren't global YouTube royalty, like gamer Felix Kjellberg with his 102 million followers under the alias PewDiePie.

But until 2017, many earned a healthy living from long days of creating, filming and building communities around their videos.

READ ALSO: German YouTuber shakes up mainstream politics with viral video

Sprave says he used to make around €6,000 euros per month after going full-time as a YouTuber.

These days he's lucky to break €1,200.

His savings and his family income mean “I can put my channel at stake, firing massive broadsides at YouTube and Google” in the name of a battle for more rights, he says.

“For a lot of my colleagues it's very different, they'd kill themselves financially if they did that.”

German YouTuber, Jörg Sprave, in September 2018. Photo: Wikimedia

'We want to know the rules'

YouTube earns money by selling advertising slots before or during videos uploaded by its millions of users, sharing some of the revenue with users whose popular channels have earned them the title of “Partner”.

In 2012-17, “we were largely free when it came to content, and well paid if we managed to get enough views”, Sprave recalls.

But advertisers keen to skirt controversy pressured YouTube to allow them more fine-grained control.

These days especially controversial videos, including some of Sprave's, are shut out from “monetization” entirely, while all are placed into categories and awarded scores measuring their attractiveness to advertisers – both invisible to creators.

“We insist on transparency. We want to know the rules by which we are being judged,” Sprave fumes.

And he complains there's often no human interlocutor.

Powerful German union IG Metall, already closely following the growing “gig” or “platform” economy of people working for online portals, has joined his battle.

“We don't just want to stand and watch how the world of work develops, but to shape it ourselves from an early stage,” says IG Metall official Robert Fuss.

'Very expensive' for YouTube

Google declined to meet Sprave alongside union officials in October, saying he and his group aren't representative of YouTubers.

Hoping to step up the pressure, the campaigners launched a mass letter-writing campaign targeting the company's California headquarters – so far to little effect.

But they have other arrows in their quiver that could become “very expensive” for YouTube, Fuss says.

One angle of attack is Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), under which companies must provide users with access to their personal data on pain of massive fines.

That could cover the categories and advertiser scores handed out secretly by YouTube, Sprave and IG Metall believe.

Meanwhile a battle with wider implications could come over the question of “false self-employment”.

IG Metall sees a potential legal case that YouTubers are so closely tied to the platform that they are de facto employees.

A court ruling that this applies to YouTubers would imply a massive financial blow of back payments for social security and pension contributions.

“There's a new class of workers who are called 'self-employed' entrepreneurs by the platforms, but don't deal with them like entrepreneurs on a level playing field,” says IG Metall's Fuss.

“There's a growing awareness among politicians that people working on digital platforms need protection,” he added, pointing to a recent California law classifying Uber drivers as employees.

'Edgy content'

But ultimately “we don't want to be YouTube employees. We want to be treated like partners”, Sprave says.

Google dismisses the prospect of a court case.

A spokesman told AFP that “contrary to what is being claimed, YouTube creators are not YouTube employees by legal status”.

Nevertheless it is taking some pains to coax online creatives towards its vision of YouTube as one revenue stream for them among many.

In a November blog post, YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki pointed to growing numbers of creators earning five or six figures annually – without providing absolute numbers – and prodded readers towards alternative sources of income such as fan merchandise.

But she also trailed “experiments” to match appropriate advertisers with “content that could be considered edgy” and that has been flagged by automated systems for limited or no ad sales.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads” had already been sold against such videos in the scheme's first month, Wojcicki added.

By Tom Barfield

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EU greenlights €200M for Spain to bring super fast internet speeds to rural areas

Brussels has approved a plan which will bring high-speed broadband internet to the almost 1 in 10 people in Spain who live in underpopulated rural areas with poor connections, a way of also encouraging remote workers to move to dying villages. 

EU greenlights €200M for Spain to bring super fast internet speeds to rural areas
The medieval village of Banduxo in Asturias. Photo: Guillermo Alvarez/Pixabay

The European Commission has given Spain the green light to use €200 million of the funds allocated to the country through the Next Generation recovery plan to offer internet speeds of up to 300 Mbps (scalable to 1Gb per second) to rural areas with slow internet connections. 

According to Brussels, this measure will help guarantee download speeds of more than 100 Mbps for 100 percent of the Spanish population in 2025.

Around 8 percent of Spain’s population live in areas where speeds above 100Mbs are not available, mostly in the 6,800 countryside villages in Spain that have fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen plans to travel to Madrid on Wednesday June 16th to hand over to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez the approved reform plan for Spain. 

Back in April, Spain outlined its Recovery and Resilience plan aimed at revitalising and modernising the Spanish economy following the coronavirus crisis, with €72 billion in EU grants over the next two years.

This includes green investments in energy transition and housing, boosting science and technology education and digital projects such as the fast-speed internet project which aims to avoid depopulation in rural areas. 

It’s worth noting that these plans set out €4.3 billion for broadband internet and 5G mobile network projects in rural areas in Spain, so this initial investment should be the first of many.

Over the past 50 years, Spain’s countryside has lost 28 percent of its population as Spaniards left to find jobs in the big cities. 

The gap has been widening ever since, local services and connections with the developed cities have worsened, and there are thousands of villages which have either been completely abandoned or are at risk of dying out. 


How Spaniards are helping to save the country’s 4,200 villages at risk of extinction

rural depopulation spain

The pandemic has seen a considerable number of city dwellers in Spain move or consider a move to the countryside to gain space, peace and quiet and enjoy a less stressful life, especially as the advent of remote working in Spain can allow for this. 

Addressing the issue of poor internet connections is one of the best incentives for digital workers to move to the countryside, bringing with them their families, more business and a new lease of life for Spain’s villages.


Nine things you should know before moving to rural Spain