A message, on YouTube, popped up before my eyes. It read:

This video contains content from BBC Worldwide, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.

My concern is about the presence of the pronoun who which is wrongly used in that sentence unless those who wrote it, purposely, would have wished to have personified BBC Worldwide.

So please let me know your thoughts on this, did they want to insert a literary device or it's just a mistake? enter image description here

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    Also note that British English tends to use the plural form for organizations where American English uses the singular. British: "The BBC are proud to present..." vs. American: "CBS is proud to present..." Jan 6, 2017 at 22:49

6 Answers 6


I expect that "who" is used because a copyright holder can be a person, and there is no deeper meaning to it.

To expand, YouTube handles copyright disputes automatically, and it probably wasn't considered worth it to have the system use different text depending on whether the copyright holder was a person or not. They would have had to have asked the copyright holder whether they are a person at some point, and they would have to store that information. It would be additional work for no real gain.

YouTube is an American company, and as far as I'm aware using "which" is preferred over "who" in American English, but "who" was probably considered correct enough – it will be understood, it works for copyright holders who are people, and it doesn't sound too odd for copyright holders that aren't people. Consider:

This video contains content from Jane Doe, which has blocked it on copyright grounds.

In British English, "who" would be the pronoun I expect to hear and, as @choster says, it is perfectly correct to use "who." In British English, it's also common to refer to companies as plural rather than singular:

This video contains content from BBC Worldwide, who have blocked it on copyright grounds.

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    Thanks so much! That's what I needed to know: the way it sounds (in both situations you presented) to a native English speaker. Jan 7, 2017 at 12:21
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    I've got two excellent answers! It's so difficult to decide which one to select... Jan 12, 2017 at 12:30

The idea that who can only apply to individual people is a misapprehension. Although which and that are more common, who is indeed sometimes applied to entities which behave like people, or are composed of people.

“This will be devastating to state and local governments, who will be on the hook for mitigating the negative criminal impacts of getting high in our communities,” Horton said. [from the Mercury News of San Jose, California]

Among those universities who wish to keep details private of the hospitality they have extended, or the commissions they have paid to agents, are RMIT University, the Australian Catholic University and the University of Melbourne. [from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation]

Forsberg has a contract until 2021 with the club who have been one of the surprise packages of the Bundesliga this season…. from The Independent (UK)]

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    This explains "who" but not "has". Do you have an example using the singular "who has"?
    – Robert
    Jan 7, 2017 at 6:06
  • @Robert You didn't ask about verb agreement, but it's possible the YouTube message is an American message. AmE tends to use the singular for organisations. There is a related question here. Jan 7, 2017 at 10:02
  • Great! I asked a question and found out the misconception I apprehended from that British author, Catherine Soanes, I linked in my question. It's good to know that English is so flexible that we can use who always. Thanks a lot! Jan 7, 2017 at 12:20

This video contains content from BBC Worldwide, who [the group of executives in charge] has blocked it on copyright grounds.

It's also worth noting that many in the British public, refer to the BBC affectionately (and non) as Auntie Beeb, or the Beeb. So if the British people have personified a broadcaster company, it's not so weird that (BBC) journalists use the relative pronoun who.

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    Perhaps but I like choster's answer that things can be given the pronoun "who" if they can be in any way related to human action, e.g. "The school board, who voted last year to close five schools, voted this year to reopen them". Although I suppose you could consider it shorthand for "the human members of the board" if you like, it really doesn't change the meaning in any way.
    – Andrew
    Jan 6, 2017 at 20:47
  • @Andrew if I post an answer late, it's because I think I can add something new. No one had mentioned that the BBC is often called Auntie Beeb by the British public, and seeing as the OP thought it incredulous that a company could be personified, I demonstrated that indeed it could! P.S I used to live in the UK.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2017 at 22:33
  • It's not limited to the UK or personified entities, though. No one has any happy friendly nicknames for the CIA, for example (other than perhaps "The Agency", which is kind of the opposite of friendly) but it's permissible to say something like "The CIA, who operate in every country on the planet, deliver a daily intelligence briefing to the President."
    – Andrew
    Jan 7, 2017 at 22:41
  • @Andrew I didn't say it was limited to the BBC, I simply pointed out that it has a human nickname, and that's why I posted it. It added something "new". No point in me repeating what two other users said, is there? :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2017 at 22:43
  • +1 for Auntie Beeb, but YouTube is an American video-sharing website headquartered in San Bruno, California. Jan 8, 2017 at 13:01

I suppose the simple explanation is that "they" (which is YouTube in this case) simply use a string pattern "This video contains content from $Complainer, who has blocked it on copyright grounds" and the variable is replaced accordingly. With gazillions of videos being uploaded and hence also an enormous amount being questioned by various copyright holders, I simply doubt that someone would hand-type a specific message each time a complaint is filed.


LMS mentions,

"This video contains content from BBC Worldwide, who have blocked it on copyright grounds."

Yes, the "has" sounds much more off than the "who"! :)


The BBC is incorporated by royal charter and is a legal person. Therefore, who is fine.

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    Legal personhood is unrelated to which pronoun is used. An unincorporated entity isn't a legal person, but you can still refer to one using "who."
    – LMS
    Jan 7, 2017 at 13:24
  • I said a legal person makes the use of who OK. And whoever is downvoting this obviously doesn't know legal English. "The BBC is incorporated", she shouted. Personally, I would call a regular entity an /it/.
    – Lambie
    Jan 7, 2017 at 17:50
  • My point is that the BBC being a legal person has no relation to whether or not you use "who." How the law views something is unrelated to grammar.
    – LMS
    Jan 7, 2017 at 19:13

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