Last week saw hundreds of gamers on YouTube enter a copyright Hell after the automated copyright system Content ID flagged thousands of videos, some years old, for copyright violations. The new flags are a result of a new tweak in YouTube’s copyright system, a change that has inconvenienced not just gamers but the video game companies that make the games these gamers are playing.
It's a sentiment echoed by YouTube news and culture personality Philip DeFranco. As he explained in a video:
You can smell the fear of YouTube gamers in the air ... I joke but it’s actually pretty terrifying. I haven’t had a gaming channel in three to four years and even my email has been like ‘this has been claimed, and this has been claimed’ … just years of videos being claimed and the monetization of it being taken away.
The majority of the copyright claims on these fan-made gaming videos are actually on the video game music that plays in the video, a claim that did not come from the gaming companies themselves but from the music publishers. YouTube recently rewrote their copyright rules following legal issues between the National Music Publishers Association and Fullscreen, a multi-channel network on YouTube, over cover songs created by musicians on the site. The new Content ID system more effectively finds copyrighted music, and this change has hit the gaming community, perhaps unintentionally, quite hard.
Many YouTube gamers make their living off YouTube by running ads on their content, but if you take away their ability to profit off their videos (their monetization) they lose their incentive to make these videos. Hence, the outrage.
Gaming companies actually encourage these types of Let’s Play and review videos, as they provide free advertising and promotion of their games. Some of the gaming videos slapped with copyright claims were actually videos that were commissioned by the gaming studios. Which is precisely why the studios are now apologizing despite not being the one at fault and taking on the counter-copyright claims process for their gamers and clearing the thousands of claims themselves.
Capcom, Blizzard, Ubisoft, Deep Silver, Paradox Interactive (who even sent a letter to YouTube from their legal team), Bungie Studios (via YouTube comments), and Nintendo, among others, have come out in recent days to say they had nothing to do with these claims and are willing to help gamers get their videos cleared. It seems to be working, as even YouTubers that didn’t directly contact the studios for help have had their videos reinstated—like DSP Gaming who had his Capcom-related content re-monetized unprompted.
YouTube, in the face of all this, has defended its copyright actions, telling the gaming magazine Polygon, "As ever, channel owners can easily dispute Content ID claims if they believe those claims are invalid." It’s the robot’s fault but he’s not perfect, basically. No public statement on YouTube's blog; no apology to the gaming community for the false positives; and no apology to the video game studios that spent the week dealing with thousands of claims from angry fans.
Given that gaming studios directly contacted YouTube asking the site to drop these claims, this issue hopefully won’t happen again on future videos. Maybe that will appease the gamers, who’ve been talking about moving over to Twitch TV as soon as possible. To hear DeFranco tell it: “YouTube [is] like an alcoholic father, we don’t know if he is going to take us to Disneyland, or slap us in the face, or both."
If that migration ever manifests, it would be a huge loss for YouTube as many of the most consistently highest performing channels comprise gamers.