A handful of YouTubers are distancing themselves from Established Titles, a company that sells souvenir plots of land in Scotland, after a popular creator made a viral video calling the company a “complete scam.”
In his video, which has amassed 2.5 million views since it was posted last week, YouTuber Scott Shafer accused Established Titles of selling “fake land titles,” bestowing “fake titles” (such as “lord” and “lady”) and misrepresenting its reforestation efforts. He also called out creators who have promoted the company.
“I know a lot of people have been saying, you know, ‘Everyone should know this is just a gag gift,’” Shafer, who is known for making videos exposing alleged scams, told NBC News. “But I did some research online and there were a lot of people who clearly believed they had legitimately bought land in Scotland through this.”
… I did some research online and there were a lot of people who clearly believed they had legitimately bought land in Scotland through this.
YouTuber Scott Shafer
Established Titles states on its website that it sells individual “Lordship,” “Ladyship” and couples title packs for plots of land that measure between 1 square foot and 20 square feet. In a disclaimer on its website the company wrote, “*This is a purchase for a personal dedication for a souvenir plot of land. You may choose to title yourself with the title of Lord, Laird or Lady.” The pieces of land that customers buy are considered souvenir plots, meaning they are too small to be legally registered for ownership and are typically kept for sentimental purposes.
In addition to the souvenir plots, Established Titles offers digital and physical certificates that designate buyers as “lords” and “ladies.” It also pledges to contribute to reforestation efforts through the nonprofits One Tree Planted and Trees for the Future (TREES).
But, according to the Law Society of Scotland, owners of souvenir plots do not have the right to officially describe themselves as “lord,” “lady” or “laird.”
On its website, Established Titles clarifies that it tells creators in its advertising briefs that its title packs “do not grant you peerages of the United Kingdom.” In a letter to NBC News, the company further elaborated, saying it provides “a fun gift, meant for a good laugh and not to be taken too seriously.”
“We have always hoped that all our customers enjoy the experience as much as we do — and the vast, vast majority of our Lord and Ladies do, but if they don’t for whatever reason, we have always honored refund and cancellation requests fully, and we still donate to plant a tree for the order regardless,” the company said.
On Nov. 24, the company sent its creator partners a letter saying it was “under a targeted, completely unfounded attack based on bogus claims.” It denounced the accusations made against it and asserted it has been transparent about its business practices.
“We appreciate the support we have received so far from both our customers and you, our creators, and we hope you will have the strength to stand by and not join in with the mob,” the letter, a copy of which NBC News reviewed, said. “However, we understand that this is no easy task, and we will not hold it against you if you prefer to sit this one out. If you want to cancel any existing bookings or future contracts with us, we will accept all cancellations without question, but with great regret.”
Creators reckon with Shafer’s video claims
Shafer’s video has prompted mixed reactions from creators. Some have expressed regret for promoting the company. Others said they have ended their sponsorships entirely.
Those who have dropped their sponsorships since the video’s release include: commentary creators Philip DeFranco, Omni, TheQuartering and SomeOrdinaryGamers; review channel Heavy Spoilers; and pop culture creator Browntable. The creators did not immediately respond to a request for comment — but many explained their reasoning for ditching the brand in social media posts and videos.
“As far as how we’re reacting to this news, I do not feel comfortable being within miles of whatever the f— this situation is,” DeFranco said of Established Titles in a video uploaded Monday. “So immediately, behind the scenes we cut off future sponsorships with this company. We also cut them out from previous videos. … And even though they posted what appears to be evidence that they have been planting trees, to 100% make sure I know something good came from this situation, I will be donating profits to [One Tree Planted].”
Browntable’s Mauricio Velazco expressed similar sentiments in a tweet Monday.
“I apologize for not researching deeper, it’s absolutely my bad,” he wrote. “I think I got so wrapped up in ‘wow, tree planting is so great and important’ that I never dug deeper into it. Simple truth is, yeah you obviously can’t call yourself a lord or lady thanks to ET. It’s also currently being investigated if the planted trees are actually in Scotland.”
Velazco told his fans that if they’ve bought the sponsor, they can message him the receipt “and I’ll work something out with you.”
“I could send you merchandise or something like that,” he wrote. “I don’t want you to feel like you wasted your money and I want to maintain the connection I have with you, the viewers that have allowed me to do what I currently do.”
He pledged to “continue to further examine the sponsors I take in the future.”
In their posts, the creators who cut ties with Established Titles expressed regret for promoting the company. Some said that they agreed to the sponsorship because they believed it to be a low-stakes novelty item with an appealing charity element.
Established Titles said it stands by its conservation contributions, citing its donations to One Tree Planted and TREES.
TREES says on its website that it partnered with Established Titles to plant over 2 million trees and that the company was its Giving Tuesday partner. A spokesperson for TREES confirmed its partnership with Established Titles. One Tree Planted confirmed in an email that Established Titles donates to its reforestation efforts.
NBC News cannot confirm the total amount of the donations, but NBC News did review receipts which document donations from Established Titles for the purchase of thousands of trees.
Some creators are keeping their sponsorships
Some creators, including equestrian content creator Raleigh Lilith and commentary channel Paige Christie, said they’ve kept their Established Titles sponsorships.
Raleigh Lilith did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In her video, which she uploaded five days ago, she said Established Titles has been supporting her channel for “close to half a year now.”
“Recently, a creator posted a video about Established Titles that was just completely baseless accusations against the company and against all of the creators that work with this company,” she said in her video. “All he does is make videos trying to drag people and stir up controversy.”
She chose to address Shafer’s video because she said she takes “scams very seriously” and vets “every single company that I work with before working with them on this channel.”
“I am not going to promote something to you guys if I consider that it’s a scam,” she said.
In an effort to understand what happened, Christie interviewed Established Titles CEO Katerina Yip and made a video “debunking” Shafer’s video. “They are not a scam,” Christie said in her video uploaded Sunday. “And for me, I feel comfortable to work with Established Titles again in the future.”
In an interview with NBC News, Christie said that she was initially “horrified” after seeing Shafer’s video. She said she received harassment over her association with Established Titles.
She said she was most concerned about the possibility of charity fraud from Established Titles, and took immediate action by removing her previous sponsorships from the company out of an abundance of caution.
However, she said after speaking with Yip and getting reassurance from her marketing agency Media Bodies, she believes the company is doing its best to remedy the situation and refund unhappy customers.
In doing her own research, Christie said she did not feel there was a reasonable excuse to pull her support for the company. In regards to the criticism that consumers were misled to think that they were actual landowners after buying the title packs, Christie believed that most people understood it was a novelty gift.
“Nobody, as far as I’m concerned, was ever given the impression that they were going to become a real lord or lady,” she said. “Nobody, as far as I’m concerned, was ever given the impression that they own land in Scotland. … It’s so abundantly clear that stuff like that takes time. … It’s not a simple 50-pound transaction online.”
Christie said she thinks the biggest issue was a communication error regarding the company’s charity aspects, in which Established Titles said it planted trees when in reality it donated to nonprofits that plant trees.
“When you change that from first person to third person and you change that verbiage to they plant a tree or Established Titles plants a tree, it puts a level of ownership onto Established Titles that wasn’t there previously, when you read it in first person,” Christie said. “And I just think that that simple first-person, third-person transition is all that was needed to cause a huge conversation on social media.”
In the video interview with Christie, CEO Yip agreed that the information about Established Titles’ charity process written in creator ad briefs was confusing.
“Thank you so much for bringing that up. I think we’ll have to, like, rephrase that or look at what we’re saying and try to make it clearer,” Yip told Christie.
Christie also said she believes that the narrative that creators should only promote perfect companies is unfair.
As a commentary creator, she said sponsorships give her the freedom to speak about topics how she wants without worrying about getting demonetized by YouTube. Sponsorships contribute a lot to creators’ livelihoods.
“We depend sometimes on the sponsorships to even allow us to continue working, and unless you’re in the top echelons of YouTubers … getting rid of that sponsor is difficult,” she said. “It’s a difficult decision to make. That’s the difference between you having a good month or a bad month.”