Before I even begin on this lengthy blathering, I must get it out there that I’m no expert in the beast that is copyright and fair use with regards to video game footage, nor am I qualified in any way to offer any legal advice on the subject. I’m just a content creator enduring this headache.
So this has been going on for several days now. I would be pretty surprised if you’ve somehow managed to avoid the whirlwind of rage, worry, and frustration that’s sweeping across the internet, but hey, you may be one of the blissfully lucky ones who aren’t a content creator or a viewer that just happened to avoid coming across such videos, or maybe this mysterious third option that escaped my uncaffeinated brain before I could type it out.
Whatever the case, YouTube has made some crazy changes that will likely cause a number of channels to disappear into memory. These channels being small ones hoping to earn a little side-cash or full-time greatness and large ones who’ve been watching their entire collection of videos demonesized.
So what is going on? A great deal of content match sweeps matching cutscene footage, trailer footage, and in-game audio (music) of games. Also, a review policy is being added that would see every monetised video you upload go through a review process before being published and publicly available. YouTube has not stated how long this process takes, so many cynics are assuming days.
All of this was supposed to go into effect in January, but it’s hitting people now. It has affected me. I’ve had in-game music matches: The first being the boss music in Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slicked Precipice of Darkness, the musical score in Anodyne, Minecraft’s background music, music from Blackwell Legacy, and music from a video of the beginning of Landstalker which I published around six years ago.
This is a real pain especially when usage, fair use, and existing publisher views of use of their game footage isn’t being taken into consideration considering published videos of games from publishers cool with monetization are getting content matches.
I can see this generalised system being fine for other content with actual laws governing them like music, movies, and television. YouTube is full of people who’ve uploaded full albums, movies, tv shows, and such that they have no right to. That’s copyright strike material right there, even if said material has been made viewable for free elsewhere in a more official capacity.
Video games don’t have that luxury. There’s a lot of confusion as to the legalities of let’s play videos. The viewer is watching someone play a game which contains content that does not belong to them. This isn’t like watching an episode of some TV show of which the content of the episode never changes regardless how many times you watch it. Everyone plays differently and most-of-the-time you also get commentary by the player. In which case, you are watching them play the game and the focus becomes more on them and less on the game. Viewers may come to see a game, but they keep coming back because of you. They want to watch you play that game.
And then we have the nebulous topic of Fair Use. There are no hard-coded, set in stone numbers to indicate how much of a copyrighted work you can use. People will say 10 seconds of this, or percentages, even word counts, but this isn’t true. You still need to seek permission unless your video can be qualified as fair use.
So what does that even mean? Well, it’s decided by the purpose of your video, the nature of the source, how much you’re using, and if it devalues the original product. If you want a thorough breakdown of fair use, court examples and all, I’d suggest taking a look here.
So what do I think? I think I have an awful headache. For one, let’s play videos don’t devalue the source. I don’t believe for one minute that they do. I have discovered a lot of games thanks to let’s play videos which resulted in me buying the games. Thanks to those videos, those publishers got revenue and I believe those let’s players deserve their revenue. They earned you some sales, don’t they deserve something for their hard work? It’s not always enough to watch official game-play footage. They’re just eye-candy and don’t really give you the full experience.
An internet friend had recently been living streaming the PS4 game Knack. Now, I had no interest in this game mostly due to my finding the character to be so hideously ugly I couldn’t see myself wanting to look at him for any length of time. I also thought the game looked a bit washed out, lacking that vibrant colour-punch most games of the type have.
Watching him play and hearing his comments really drove it home that this was a game I would not enjoy. Still, it was entertaining to watch and I kept watching his streams and interacting with him which made things fun. Ignoring my personal tastes and standards, I probably would have bought this game after the third stream. It was an entertaining experience. As such, it’s not for me and I’m glad I watched him play before blindly going out to pick it up. I saw and learnt things in the stream I wouldn’t have seen in official, non-commentated footage and this is important and useful to everyone wanting to make educated purchases. If you’re going to spend money on something, you generally want to know what it is you’re getting and on the subject of games “is it fun?” is the most pressing question you have. If a let’s player is having fun with the game, that’s always a good sign. Even though I didn’t like Knack and they don’t get any money from me, someone else who watches might do.
I understand why the contentID junk is in place, but I don’t think it is appropriate for video game footage. Even considering fair use is a case-by-case thing, having some blanketing system to catch content seems ridiculous when most catches, at least where mine are concerned, are tiny bits of my videos.
Let’s talk about trailers. If you’ve just uploaded one to your channel doing nothing with it, then yeah; there’s a problem. For one, why would you even bother when it already exists on youtube from a variety of official sources such as magazines, big gaming websites, developers, and publishers? That just seems pointless, redundant, and a sad attempt to earn cash you don’t deserve. However, if you’ve featured the trailer in some fashion or other for journalistic purposes in which your blathering on about something relevant which gives meaning and purpose to the inclusion of said trailer, I don’t think you should get hit at all. It is there to support whatever it is you’re talking about. It seems as ridiculous as someone throwing a claim at you for a properly credited quote in a research paper you wrote.
In-game audio. Okay, this one confuses me and seems iffy. The game has permission to use the tracks in their game, but does that mean the artist has control beyond that? Looking at it from the perspective of the publisher, it seems weird that they would have to get permission from the artist to make an official game-play video of a section of the game that includes whatever artist’s music. They already gave permission for it to be used in the game, so wouldn’t that extend to that publisher’s use of their game? It’s part of the game. Should there be a difference to the licensed tracks of GTA, Saints Row, and other titles featuring tracks from a variety of artists to the normal musical score of the game? Mojang allows monetisation of Minecraft videos providing you’ve created something worth paying for. It’s cool of them to do that, but I’ve got content matches for C418s music. This means I won’t even be able to listen to any of the music discs within the game for some jukebox shenanigans that so many other people have done in videos. I will just be doing the crouch dance in silence.
I can’t say for certain, but I think they’re trying to catch music added by the creator. Like if someone were playing Skyrim and chose to listen to the radio while doing so, or something to that nature. Needless to say, context doesn’t seem to be a factor and certainly isn’t something any automated system can discern.
Lastly, we have cut-scenes. Again, this is a point of critique and also a big part of a game. Does it really hurt anything, though? Even people who just post the opening and ending sequences for? If they’re worried about spoilers, chances are if you cared, you wouldn’t be watching them to begin with. Is it just a publisher going, “we don’t want anyone putting up any footage of our games, so we’ll go for cutscenes and other static content easily matched and claim all the spoils!”
It’s a terrible gray area because there’s nothing that directly applies to videogame footage. It’s not like a movie, or tv show that’s static and no matter who plays it, each video will be exactly the same. But is uploading a full playthrough of a game any different? Is it? To me, it seems the same as as an instructor showing a movie to a film analysis class. In the perspective of the let’s player, they’re educating viewers about the game while critiquing and otherwise having fun with it.
It’s a very frustrating thing to deal with. I’ve seen lots of videos from various creators explain what’s happening and general rage on the matter as well as many deciding to just pack up and leave, tired of yet another terrible YouTube decision. If I continue on and trudge through the storm, I will have to mute the music and edit out cutscenes for my let’s play videos. That just seems wrong.
I don’t even want to have to think about any of this. I am not sure what my plans are for my channel or how I’m going to proceed. I don’t want to give up a hobby I enjoy doing in my free time, but at the same time, I don’t wish it to become a frustrating and stressful thing. I’m going to lay low and see how this nightmare plays out and how this ends up affecting partnered channels come January before making any big decisions. I’ll limit myself to other things in the meantime which means there will likely be far less let’s play videos getting up and more general squiddy faff. I’m terribly sorry for this, but it’s YouTube’s fault and I don’t wish to expend anymore time and energy on this frustration until this mess gets sorted somehow.
It’s time for this squiddy to do something fun with her day which includes a shopping trip of self-presents, lunch, and lattes, then returning home to enjoy more Beyond Good & Evil HD.