The r/nosleep Blackout (+ Vice Interviews)

29 Feb The r/nosleep Blackout (+ Vice Interviews)

If you haven’t heard about The Blackout going on at r/nosleep right now, then here’s a brief rundown. The sub has shut down until March 2nd. Why? Well in their own words:

The Writer’s Blackout is a movement designed to help authors receive fair compensation from YouTube narrators via direct mediation and/or advice from experienced writers. In addition, this movement strives to provide writers with personal advice on individual negotiations, working out fee options such as revenue percentages, view to dollar ratios or royalty rights. In short, we must stress that the core imperative of the movement is to strictly enforce that writers receive fair pay for their work.

– r/TheWritersBlackout

A lot of community members are involved, and the movement is run by autor TJ Lea and head r/nosleep mod Christine Druga. It’s about getting writers fair pay and treatment. And of course, this is something that we at The NoSleep Podcast hugely support and champion, and we fully back this movement. 

Part of my role on the show is to cultivate relationships with authors, give them advice, opportunities, help foster their careers beyond ‘appearing on the podcast’. I wish I had 100x more hours in my day to be able to do this as much as I’d like to, but alas. The point is, as a NoSleep Podcast employee who came in originally as a freelance author, I know what it’s like for horror authors in our community, and how often we’re made to feel like our content is worth nothing, despite it being the lifeblood of the horror narration and podcasting community. So I try and do what I can to help authors contribute to sustainable careers and personal brands. I’m sure I could do more, and this year I’ve reshuffled my responsibilities to be able to spend even more time on doing that. 

Anyway! I’ve been involved in The Blackout in a small way, working with TJ discussing and planning things, as well as occasionally being a media liaison for the movement. It’s been extremely heartwarming to see how well The NoSleep Podcast is regarded by the community; in fact our rates, processes etc have been used as some benchmarks in what the movement is asking for. I couldn’t be more proud to see the positive effect the podcast has contributed to the mobilizing of this movement. I’m still a relative newcomer to the NSP family, but I’m so incredibly proud of this brand that David’s built up from a tiny grassroots indie podcast into what it is now, and the authors who’ve grown and developed alongside us.

But enough of this preamble! Recently myself, TJ and Chrissi spoke to journalist Gita Jackson over at Vice about The Blackout, and you can read her excellent article here. Due to the nature of the article, the full interviews aren’t present, so with Gita’s permission, TJ and I are publishing our full interview answers here as a companion piece to the Vice article. Just in case anyone fancies reading them, y’know? I only answered three of the five questions as the other two didn’t apply to me. 


Q) How has people stealing work affected you? Other users?

It affects me in two ways. I work for The NoSleep Podcast now as content manager, editor etc, and also a staff writer. I was an r/nosleep author and contributor before I started at the podcast, but any of my work from that period I’ve given first refusal to the podcast for. So people taking and adapting my work from r/nosleep means they’re literally reproducing something that someone else holds the audio rights to. Sometimes it’s a story we’ve already run on the podcast, and may want to do something else with in future, so having random Youtubers adapt it without permission makes that harder too. I don’t want to remove my pre-podcast r/nosleep stories, but the idea any unscrupulous narrator could be stealing them when I’ve already granted the exclusive audio rights to the company I work for is infuriating. Plus it’s just insulting and disrespectful even if I hadn’t granted those rights elsewhere. 

As editor for The NoSleep Podcast I see it affecting others too. They might have their heart set on us being the ones to do the audio adaptation of their story, for example if we’re their favorite podcast, or they rightly feel like their work is worth money (we pay $125 for regular fiction, with smaller rates for things like flashfic). Then if some Youtuber’s already come along and stolen it and gotten 500,000+ views for it, they’ve had the right to do what they want with their work taken away from them, and may end up not even submitting to us because they might feel they’ve lost their opportunity because another big player already did it. 

I have friends and colleagues who regularly write for r/nosleep so I’ve heard a number of the different complaints people have. All of the above, plus the fact that by not having control over who is reproducing their stories, there’s always the danger of being associated with some awful person without even knowing it, or people realizing you didn’t grant permission. I’ve heard of people having serious difficulty striking up publishing or rights deals because Youtubers have reproduced their work without permission. We have no idea how many agents or publishers might’ve been interested in working with an author,  googled for a story, seen it reproduced without permission and assume the author’s released it under CC BY-SA so don’t even pursue offering the lucrative opportunities they might’ve been considering. And of course if someone’s going to steal your content, you can’t trust them not to change it too. There’s always the worry that someone could steal your story and make changes to it that represent a viewpoint or a stance that you’re not comfortable being associated with.

There are two types of content thief out there; the ones who think that because it’s posted on the internet you’re allowed to just reproduce it without permission. They usually at least credit the author, but mostly via a small link hidden behind Youtube’s ‘more’ jump cut. You’d be hard-pressed to find a content thief who makes any real effort to promote the author. And then of course a lot of them just won’t credit the author at all, in the hopes it goes unnoticed. In my opinion, even if you DO get permission, if the author’s name isn’t presented to your viewer or listener without them having to click through or search it out, then you’re failing at proper accreditation. If you run an audio YouTube channel and the author’s name isn’t on-screen AND spoken aloud at the start of the story then you’re letting authors down. Plenty of people will stick on a horror narrator and let Youtube’s Autoplay do its thing, often not even looking at the screen for four or five stories until Youtube auto-pauses. If the author’s name isn’t spoken aloud, then a lot of times it’s no better than receiving no credit at all. So a lot of Youtubers could improve there. But the ones who steal the content are just taking someone else’s hard work and doing whatever they can to prevent that person from benefitting in the way they deserve. And it’s such a rampant thing that even this alone has been enough to put some authors I know off of even trying to part of the online writing communities

Q) What’s the most egregious instance of someone stealing something from nosleep that you can think of?

Most recently the case of Mini Ladd, a YouTuber with 5.3 million subscribers and full monetization, had been found to be narrating numerous r/nosleep stories without permission or payment. I believe he’s since taken down the videos and is attempting to make amends for the frankly heinous original response he had to being called out over it (doxxing an author etc).
Beyond that, we found one guy last year who had been taking stories from r/nosleep and selling them as ebooks on Amazon under his own name. That was one of the more exceptionally brazen moves. But literally hundreds of Youtubers just take content from r/nosleep without permission, let alone payment, that I think we’ve all grown a bit desensitized to how often our content gets stolen. Which to me is very sad that we’ve ever had to be conditioned to feel that way. 

Q) What’s the best case scenario for nosleep going forward? How would you like to see this resolved?

The best case scenario would be if all the people who steal content without being aware it’s theft were made aware that it is, in fact theft, and stopped doing it, apologized, made amends. And that the people who steal with full knowledge all suddenly grew consciences and stopped being criminals. The former might actually happen thanks to this. The latter, I doubt it, but I’m hoping The Blackout and the discussion around it means people will be extra vigilant – not just people within the online horror writing community, but the wider online sphere, people who listen to creepypastas and spooky tales and can just ask someone at r/nosleep like ‘hey, did you give permission for this?’. For honest YouTubers, it might be sensible to start adding something like ‘story reproduced with permission from the author’ to their descriptions, to distance themselves from their thieving counterparts. And to call out content theft whenever they see it.

I don’t think online content theft will ever be ‘resolved’ as such. The Blackout isn’t going to stop it from happening, and as much as it would be awesome if it could be, that’s not the goal. But what it will do, and is doing, is raise awareness to the issue, let people know how long we’ve spent having our work stolen time and time again. And maybe it’ll help more people outside our community look into it a bit and realize that this is a really fresh, contemporary, accessible form of horror literature that, in my opinion at least, has revitalized the genre massively and is comprised of hundreds of mostly or totally undiscovered authors who are every bit as deserving of mainstream horror writing success as the big publishing house darlings. r/nosleep was built around being raw and real, designed to grab you by the throat, and there’s a reason the community has grown and grown, and Hollywood is starting to take an interest. There’s so much stuff with potential here, and not having our work stolen and treated like free content for anyone to take and profit off can only help legitimize the medium in the way it deserves.


Q) Can you give me, in your own words, a brief timeline of the events that lead to the sub’s closure?

Absolutely, it technically goes all the way back to 2012, when my first and most viral horror short “The Expressionless” was first conceived. It stands now as one of the most popular creepy pastas of its time and subsequently the most reposted on various message boards, websites and platforms across the world. 

Naturally, during a far more lawless time with YouTube, it wasn’t expected of narrators or influencers to ask a writer permission for a piece before narrating, reviewing or remixing it for their channel. The issue of content thievery was rampant during those adolescent days of social media and online entertainment, but it really grew and became more insidious as a result.

Once we began to hit the mid 2010’s, the perception of an e-celebrity became an entirely new entity, we began to report on YouTubers earning millions and largely doing so in unique and marketable ways. Some of which were narrations. Again, stories would be posted on places like r/letsnotmeet, r/shortscarystories, 4chan’s various message boards and of course r/nosleep, they’d reach the ears of websites looking for lists of spooky events/creatures or influencers looking for fun top 10’s and narrations. Again, the concept of pay was usually ignored due to a severe lack of understanding over what Creative Commons laws were.

The catalyst was MiniLadd aka Craig Thompson. I got wind that he’d been doing a series on YouTube wherein he read NoSleep stories verbatim for fun. Only problem was he obscured the author and title name, did not link back to the story, did not ask permission and would not establish a dialogue with the writers on compensation. A colleague of mine P F McGrail aka ByfelsDisciple on NoSleep is one of the most gifted, kindhearted guys there. When he found out his work was illegally attributed, all he asked for was a promotion of his upcoming book. Craig elected to hide the video, pocket the money and not reply.

I launched The Blackout not long after, frustrated at a professional level that my peers were being taken advantage of, for fear they’d lose their exposure or simply didn’t know how to negotiate their fee. As a rare full-timer in our community, I wanted to use my experience and influence to help educate them and take the fight to these content creators by slowing the flow of content or cutting it off outright until we established proper dialogue with these people.

To my surprise, it worked exponentially better than I could have ever imagined. Within days MiniLadd’s channel was scheduled for deletion (this has since been rescinded due to his efforts to speak to Writers and compensate), which in turn spurned our head moderator Christine (Cmd102) to take a vote and close the subreddit in solidarity with us. That gesture was the most influential part of all of this and we wouldn’t be where we are without her.

As of now, we are in discussions with various YouTubers on how to revamp negotiations, build a proper community dialogue between us and them, assist writers on compensation and eventually transition into being more of a guild that helps bridge the gap. 

Q) How has people stealing work affected you? Other users?

In terms of me, I’d estimate i’ve lost anywhere from 10 to 30 thousand dollars in revenue share. That would be a conservative estimate. Some videos I’ve successfully gotten taken down without any compensation, some are too old to fight against and others have been done recently with great success. 

I will tell you straight up that for several years it killed my love of writing. I saw all these adaptations of my work and once the glamour of “exposure” faded and I saw it was not a neon sign but instead a paltry promise with nothing behind it, I felt powerless to stop it all from happening. I was a 22 year old kid with no experience in the industry, no understanding of how I should be adequately paid and in some cases I believed bigger YouTubers who said they “couldn’t afford to pay me”. There’s one I won’t name for legal reasons who told me that to my face and profited greatly off of my work, it’s still on YouTube and I’m sure you’ll figure out which one very quickly. That one STILL stings. 

Had I not been approached by some influential people that helped put undisclosed things into motion, I’d have never gotten back into writing or doing anything I’d done now. That new lease on this passion spurned me to help those in the exact same position I was once in, but with someone fighting their corner and telling them “hey, writers are paid in every other industry, so why the fuck is it not the same on YouTube?”

I’ve known a ton of writers who have effectively disappeared from the online space thanks to unfair attribution for their work, NoSleep has grown and changed in the past decade and an awful lot of the original greats have either elected to publish their work privately or been put off the subreddit entirely due to thievery and no proper compensation. It’s a shame too, because there’s an entire generation of readers now who don’t remember some of the absolute greats and I don’t blame them for their disenfranchisement. 

The problem is, you can have a passion for your whole life, but even the most passionate people have their limits and you can only see the work you poured your heart and soul into be marketed for great profit with ZERO returns for so long before you simply stop. 

Q) What strategies have the nosleep team tried to curb people stealing stories? 

As a collective, we have the Sleepless Watchdogs, a team dedicated to finding and stopping content thievery. They do not get enough credit for what they do and it’s a thankless job most of the time. 

The Writers Blackout is centralised on the other side of the coin; content usage without pay. We strictly deal with ensuring writers get paid and get paid fairly. That is in itself a major issue when we put content thievery aside. Too many large scale narrators across major platforms have greatly profited off of a writers work, turned themselves into extremely high earners while I know writers who had to set up ko-fi’s and openly talked about being unable to pay their bills some weeks, it’s disgusting. 

I realise so many readers here and on our subreddit will feel a sense of entitlement to our work and that we should be “overjoyed” we get anything, let alone exposure. But understand that exposure doesn’t pay our bills or feed us. If a creator wants to narrate our work, bringing it to life, we deserve the fair share of that pie seeing as it’s OUR worlds they step into. 

I hope that The Blackout can continue to educate people on that and bring over narrators who are trying to do the right thing, because there are so many narrators that DO want to do the right thing, but don’t know how to properly pay or understand copyright laws. 

Q) What’s the most egregious instance of someone stealing something from nosleep that you can think of? 

I’d say for NoSleep, the most egregious was either MiniLadds situation mentioned above or one of the countless times people have taken our work, put them into anthologies and sold them off for profit. 

There was also an instance where a superb writer had a story stolen, profit taken and the thief had the sheer gall to try and negotiate with the fucking producer as if it were their own content, which would have been the most insulting thing imaginable for the author. 

Thankfully, the producers eventually tracked down the original author and all is well. 

Q) What’s the best case scenario for nosleep going forward? How would you like to see this resolved?

The best case scenario is one where current, new and old writers are protected and supported in their capacity. Giving them the tools to adequately negotiate, understanding their fees and better equipping them should Hollywood call. 

I think a lot of people fail to realise just how vital the NoSleep subreddit is to the entertainment industry in 2020. Over the last 10 years, it’s steadily grown and nurtured some of the best authors (Dathan Auerbach, Christopher Bloodworth, Kerry Hammond), tv writers/film adaptations (CK Walker for Mike Flanagan’s Hill House, Tony Lunedi who wrote Spire In The Woods to be directed by Steven Spielberg), Podcast adaptations (Jasper DeWitt & CK’s works being produced by Ryan Reynolds and Cole Sprouse, respectively) and so on.

The industry KNOWS the future is within NoSleep, it KNOWS that the largest creative writing forum on the subreddit, possibly the internet (at least for horror) and with horror beginning to have a greater focus on stories and less slasher fiction, they are hungry for what we can provide.

But it is all for naught if our writers can’t negotiate or worse, DON’T negotiate because they’ve been scared off the subreddit entirely.

This isn’t just about stopping theft, it’s safeguarding the entire horror community as a whole.


Q) Can you give me, in your own words, a brief timeline of the events that lead to the sub’s closure? 

Over that last couple of years, there have been subreddits and movements created to help educate authors and narrators alike on copyright protections and compensation practices.

r/SleeplessWatchdogs was created to inform authors of when their work has been stolen and keep track of those who steal it.

r/NosleepWritersGuild was created to help educate authors and narrators on intellectual property rights and encourage them to work together.

r/YTNarratorsGuild was created to help educate narrators on proper procedures when using work found on Reddit and support them in their endeavors.

r/TheWritersBlackout was created to fight for authors’ rights and promote fair compensation practices.

After a particularly stressful couple of weeks regarding r/nosleep content being stolen, I had the idea to spread awareness by shutting r/nosleep down in support of the authors and the movements created on their behalf. I presented the idea to the r/nosleep mod team, they voted in agreement, and about 2 weeks later, we began our protest.

Q) How has people stealing work affected you? Other users? 

The theft hasn’t really affected me as an author. However, I’m heavily involved in the movements that are working to inform and support the community, so the situation has been keeping me very busy. 

As far as other users are concerned, the rampant theft has caused a lot of issues. Some authors have nearly lost paying gigs because of it, others have stopped posting to r/nosleep and/or removed their stories from the subreddit completely because they were so tired of seeing their work stolen. We’ve gotten messages from people hoping to post to r/nosleep about their fear of their work being stolen if they post it. That’s not to mention the anger and stress these authors face when they’re fighting to get their content removed from a place where it was illegally shared. 

Q) What strategies have the nosleep team tried to curb people stealing stories? 

We have a copyright disclaimer in the sidebar that was put there with hope that having it listed above our rules would help deter thieves. However, we’ve realized that not a whole lot of people are reading the sidebar, and may have to come up with another idea within the subreddit.

The mod team openly supports the movements created to help educate everyone on authors’ rights and enforce them. Some of us, myself included, have joined those movements as moderators and leaders and have worked to protect our community.

Q) What’s the most egregious instance of someone stealing something from nosleep that you can think of?

This actually happened very recently, and admittedly played a part in the inspiration behind the protest.

The Youtuber Mini Ladd, who has over 5 million subscribers, had read several r/nosleep stories on his channel without permission. After 4 months of attempting to contact him to resolve the issue, a handful of the affected authors filed DMCA strikes against the videos, and his channel was scheduled for deletion.

When Mini Ladd announced this, his fans attacked both subreddits and authors. The screenshot that Mini Ladd shared in the announcement (which he later deleted) showed the full name of one of the authors who filed the strike, which lead to him being doxxed, harassed, threatened, and ultimately fearing for his and his family’s safety.

The primary issue was that Mini Ladd’s loyal fans did not know that the authors were acting within their rights and enforcing copyright laws. They assumed that the authors were making a cash grab or simply attacking Mini Ladd because he was popular.

Mini Ladd wound up posting a public apology and contacting the affected authors to resolve the issue, and his channel was saved. Unfortunately, the damage that had absolutely rocked the community had already been done.

Q) What’s the best case scenario for nosleep going forward? How would you like to see this resolved?

The best case scenario is that fans, authors, narrators, and the like learn that the authors are protected by copyright laws when they post their work to r/nosleep and Reddit in general, that the authors are always asked permission before their work is used or shared, and that they are treated fairly and compensated fairly for their work.

I would like see the authors and narrators form a beneficial relationship that works for everyone. There is so much potential for the communities to work together and to promote each other, they just need to learn the right way and what’s necessary to do it. I really, genuinely, hope that all of the hard work we have put forth leads to the two communities to form a better relationship.

So there you go! The full text of all three Vice interviews. Major thanks to Gita Jackson for running this piece. You should go follow her on Twitter here

TJ Lea is an author and leader of The Blackout. You should follow him on Twitter here. His new book “The Spaces In Between” based off his NoSleep Bartending Series is being released August 31st. Visit Eerie River Publishing for more info.

Chrissi Druga is one of the head mods of r/nosleep. You should follow her on Twitter here

Olivia White is me. I’m COO of The NoSleep Podcast and also freelance as a celebrity. You can find my work, well, on this very podcast, and follow me on Twitter here. I also made some video games this one time.