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Vimeo moderates uploads of "commercial-use" videos using unclear guidelines (2009)

Summary: Vimeo, the video-hosting website created by CollegeHumor's parent company in 2004, has always presented itself as a destination for creators who wished to free themselves from YouTube's limitations and aggressive monetization. Vimeo remains ad-free, supporting itself with subscription fees.

Other efforts were made to distance Vimeo from YouTube. Its fairly aggressive content policy forbade plenty of things that were acceptable on Google's platform, including videos promoting commercial services.

The terms of service didn't explicitly forbid content that related to commercial services but were not attempts to sell services directly to other Vimeo users, but user experience consultant Paul Boag found his videos targeted by Vimeo and given a week to move them to another hosting service. While some videos of Boag's rode the edge of the terms of service ban on commercial videos, others provided nothing more than marketing advice or reviews of browser plugins.

At that point, Vimeo also banned the embedding of hosted content on sites that also served up ads. Unfortunately for Boag, his own site contained ads, making it a violation of the terms of service to embed his own videos on his own site. And this rule wasn't set in stone: Vimeo rather unhelpfully clarified it did allow embedding on some sites with ads, but it was a decision only Vimeo could make.

Vimeo players cannot appear on domains running ads, its a decision we made in the beginning and have been going back and forth with allowing or disallowing it, but so far we cannot allow it unless it is with one of our partners.

Decisions to be made by Vimeo:

  • Does distinguishing the service from YouTube with more onerous restrictions on content ultimately lower moderation costs by attracting a user base that self-selects?
  • Is the risk of losing paid users an acceptable tradeoff for preventing Vimeo from "devolving" into just another YouTube-like service?
  • Is making judgment calls on "commercial-use content" possible to do fairly when it appears to mainly be based on subjective calls by moderators?
  • Is Vimeo large enough to comfortably absorb any damage to its reputation or user goodwill when its moderation decisions affect content that doesn't actually violate its policies?

Questions and policy implications to consider:

  • Would allowing users to pay to upload commercial-use videos move the platform closer to the competitors Vimeo has tried to distance itself from?
  • Would a transparent and open challenge process help Vimeo avoid losing paying users?

Resolution: Paul Boag's videos were removed and Boag chose to use a different platform to host his content, rather than continue to struggle with Vimeo's unclear content policies.

A few years later, Vimeo changed course and began allowing Pro users to upload content that was considered a violation of its terms of service in 2009. The restrictions on commercial-use content have since been rolled back even further, forbidding users from posting only certain kinds of commercial-use content:

We do not allow content that promotes:
 

  • Illegal schemes (like Pyramid/Ponzi schemes)
  • Businesses that promise wealth with little or no effort
  • Unregistered securities offerings (absent a legal basis)
  • Illegal products or services 
  • Products or services (even if legal) using deceptive marketing practices 
  • In addition, users may not use Vimeo.com’s messaging capabilities for unsolicited direct marketing purposes.

Written by The Copia Institute, October 2020

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