Hbomberguy on James Somerton, plagiarism and queer erasure in THAT viral video essay
When YouTube video essayist Harry Brewis first began producing his latest video on examples of plagiarism among content creators, he did so thinking it would be just another addition to the wealth of analytical videos on his platform.
What he didn’t anticipate was that, in mere days, the nearly four-hour-long video would send shockwaves throughout social media as a call to action for those who had been plagiarised by prominent creators to speak up.
“It’s kind of unprecedented for me,” Harry, better known by his channel name, Hbomberguy, tells PinkNews. “I make a lot of videos with the intention of them being esoteric and just sort of for my own amusement really. I don’t like playing to an audience.
“Very often I expect a video to do terribly and then it does really well, and this is definitely one of those [times] but a much higher order of magnitude than normal.”
Mere moments after the video, titled “Plagiarism and You(Tube)” was published, it exploded in popularity, gaining over a million views a day consistently for over a week.
As of writing, it currently sits at over 9.6 million views in just 11 days – Harry’s fifth most popular video alongside a three-and-a-half hour analysis of the Deus Ex series of video games, a video essay titled “Sherlock is Garbage, Here’s Why” and an in-depth video on the origins of a sound effect from the gaming platform Roblox.
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The video is segmented into 19 separate sections, with the first half discussing various examples of plagiarism by YouTube content creators such as controversial essayist Iilluminaughtii, the Internet Historian, and Cinemassacre, known for the “Angry Video Game Nerd” series.
The second half, however, focuses primarily on a litany of allegations made against queer YouTube creator James Somerton, who has been accused of plagiarism, misogyny, misgendering and more.
During his research into a video on plagiarism, Harry says he found accusations against Somerton which eventually snowballed into an over two-hour extension, which he joked became “like a second video attached to it against my will”.
The aftermath of Hbomberguy’s plagiarism accusations
Among several other allegations, Harry accused Somerton of stealing content from queer writers, academics, journalists, and content creators in at least 26 videos, though Harry claims that the true extent of his plagiarism is likely far broader than anyone could guess.
One of Somerton’s videos, Harry alleges, stole almost 10,000 words from at least 18 different sources.
“Within a few hours of the video going up he had deleted or privated several of the ones we hadn’t found anything on, almost as if he wanted to try and avoid being caught more,” Harry says.
“He made a non-apology post saying a big YouTuber has brought up these old resolved issues because he must have assumed I only brought up the two or three things he knew people had caught him for, and then he got a bunch of comments there were like, ‘This is a lie, why are you lying?’
“I think he made a lot of enemies.”
Somerton then went into panic mode, deleting his crowdfunding page on Patreon, setting his X/Twitter account to private and, eventually, his YouTube account.
But it was the reaction from one of James Somerton’s co-writers, Nicholas Hergott, that Harry was most shocked by.
“Nick privated his Twitter and also posted some very interesting things on the Somerton Discord [an online chat forum] where he said he can’t possibly have been a plagiarist because he doesn’t read anything.
“I had a lot of respect for Nick up until he started saying, ‘Well, I don’t actually do any work, so how could I possibly be stealing from someone else’s?’
“It’s all just just vibes,” he jokes.
Following a wave of backlash from the 905 crowdfunders for Somerton’s disgraced film publisher, Telos Pictures – a project in which several LGBTQ+ films were sporadically pitched and dropped or disappeared – Hergott reportedly said he believed Somerton should return the $64,150 made from its Indiegogo page.
Instead, Somerton deleted the project’s website, removed any evidence of Hergott’s association with Telos Pictures, and hasn’t been heard from online since.
“So yeah, he’s taken the money and run basically,” Harry argues. “There’s no interest in doing right by anyone. He’s just disappeared.
“It sucks because I had hoped that this would compel him to try and make good on any of his promises and instead, it’s just, oh, I’ve just forced him to admit he was never going to make those films … I wanted something good to come out of it.
“To me, his career ending is the least interesting part. Like his career was over the instant anyone ever talked about this because there’s so much of it. What I wanted was something good to come out of it which is why it was important to me to give the money away and to recommend new creators people could be watching.”
‘This is a substantial amount of money’
For Harry, the shocking success of his four-hour video has itself brought a few internal issues surrounding a pledge he made to give away a portion of its profits to those who had been plagiarised.
“We said we were going to give away all the ad revenue that video raised and now because ad revenue’s higher in December, the video is four hours so there are more ads, and a lot of people have watched it, it’s an order of magnitude higher than we expected it to get.”
This means that the payouts Harry and the Hbomberguy team promised have increased dramatically, and, coupled with Somerton’s reaction, things have become much more hectic.
“Now, like, taxes are involved,” Harry says. “This is a substantial amount of money to be taxed on before we give it to people. It’s actually made it harder for me to do the intended purpose of the video.
“My wonderful producer, Kat, has had to set up a database to keep track of all of the things that were stolen from just to make sure we have everything correct… This isn’t like 300 bucks, which is what we expected it to be, this is a lot more.”
Another substantial roadblock was the realisation that a creator, whom Harry did not name, which he had considered endorsing in a playlist of YouTuber stars had, in actuality, been plagiarising too.
“Someone found a section where she was really speaking in a very stilted and sort of strange way almost like she was reading someone else. Someone saw that and went, ‘Oh, James must have been ripping her off in his video on this topic because he sounds like that.’
“No, actually you’ve just discovered a plagiarist.
“So we’re looking into that now. Like, do we talk about that? Or do we just have to say, hey, we can’t give you money because you were the one doing the stealing.”
How James Somerton’s plagiarism contributes to misinformation and queer erasure
The biggest takeaway for Harry is that plagiarism is not just laziness, it can have a deeply and profoundly dangerous effect on information itself.
But Harry believes the seeming commitment to plagiarism for several creators is because as they continue to plagiarise, their skills don’t develop.
“You think, well, why would he do that, there must be something wrong with this person,” Harry says. “But then you remember they can’t write their own. They’re in too deep.
“They’re, you know, 60 videos into a pretty lucrative career where they have never written anything of their own. So now all they can do is keep stealing something original looking and hope for the best.”
This can cause major issues for false information seeping through the cracks. Harry says he has already found multiple examples of Somerton getting simple information wrong and even misgendering creators because of his lack of research.
“I think James, at best, was always at least two years behind on whatever the conversation was,” he says. “By the time had had the chance to make the videos he’d obviously want to make for a while venting these frustrations, the frustrations would be aimed at people whose identities he doesn’t understand.
“I think misinformation has always been a problem on some level, it’s probably worse with video and with social media where there’s an implied rawness and authenticity, which often isn’t there. But the really scary thing is there’s disinformation.
“If you want to kill the king, you don’t poison him, you convince him his doctor is poisoning and so he stops taking medicine.”
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