Numerous video game-related YouTube personalities have spent the last day digging through piles of copyright claims suddenly filling their inboxes, claims that they say are messing with their ability to produce and profit from videos they post online.
YouTuber Brad Colburn, whose TheRadBrad channel has some 1,943,317 subscribers, told Kotaku that he's been getting copyright notices for at least 24 hours. These claims potentially block him from earning advertising money for the hours upon hours of footage of games he posts online.
Some game publishers have been OK with people streaming and sharing their content. Others haven't been. But copyright claims tend to come and go. They don't usually hit in huge waves like this. Brad explained what he's been going through:
So basically I've been on YouTube since early 2010 and I've now got over 3,000 videos. On Monday I started getting emails from YouTube every time one of those 3,000+ videos got a third party match. I've had almost 75 videos hit with this. What it means is during a 15 minute video of me playing a game and doing commentary taking about MY life, a loading screen will have a 10 second audio clip of in game music. That's what gets claimed. Not the gameplay but composers of an in-game sound effect or song are doing the claiming. So now all my hours of recording, editing, uploading are used to give 100% of the revenue to that person instead of me.
Colburn has said that the volume of claims he's getting could "cripple" his channel. He's not alone there.
"Basically every game reviewer and Let's Player on YouTube is getting reamed with copyright matches right now," YouTuber Zach Scott told me. "I've had over 30 videos be pegged, mostly for music included in the game." Scott's ZackScottGames channel has nearly half a million subscribers on YouTube.
YouTube has used programs to crawl videos and sniff out copyrighted material before, but this week's sweep seems unusually aggressive and less specific.
"It seems to be the same ContentID system, except all of my matches seem heavily focused on audio and music," he said. "When Nintendo claimed my videos before, they seemed deliberate with no references to the claimed content. Now it is all automated, and it's affected about 2% of my uploads. Some are matched from songs Nintendo has cataloged themselves, whereas most are from 3rd party music licensing companies like Ingrooves, WMG, Loud Digital Network, etc. For example, most of my old Sim City videos have been claimed due to having music from an EA soundtrack. Some of my GTA V videos have been claimed for various music that plays in the background. This is weird because other than Nintendo, this is not the game publishers going after video creators. These are all music publishers and license holders having their catalog of work detected in Let's Plays by YouTube's ContentID system. Even some of my videos featuring royalty free music that I've bought and licensed myself have been claimed."
Scott shared this example, which shows one of his GTA V videos getting snagged because of a song played on one of the game's in-game radio stations:
We've reached out to YouTube to see what's going on with this. They haven't replied yet, but when they do, we'll let you know.
It seems, at least, that this is catching just about everyone off guard.
Game publisher Capcom, for example, whose Dead Rising 3 was featured in a Colburn video that was just flagged, posted the following to Twitter:
YouTubers: Pls let us know if you've had videos flagged today. These may be illegitimate flags not instigated by us. We are investigating.
— Capcom-Unity (@Capcom_Unity) December 10, 2013
It also seems that major YouTube video game networks like Machinima had no idea this was coming:
Machinima Partners. Getting news of all the 3rd party claim stuff across YT. We're on it. Love all of your faces <3. Keep you posted!
— OpTicJ (@OpTicJ) December 9, 2013
Escapist reviews editor Jim Sterling has posted his own erudite take on what's going on and shared some ridiculous examples of his own videos being flagged this week. He pins more of this on the game publishers, so his experience may be a little different if no less eyebrow-raising.
YouTube videos of games are not without controversy. Some game publishers see Let's Play videos and other videos that show a lot of gameplay as some form of copyright infringement or at least as something that they should be the ones earning money from—as opposed to the people recording the videos. Others see the very same videos as some of the best free advertising a game can get. That controversy will only intensify as these kinds of intentional or accidental crackdowns occur, regardless of who they're from.
One YouTuber who we spoke to for this story said he's specifically avoided doing gameplay-heavy videos because he didn't want to have these kinds of hassles. When he's used footage, he's made sure to have permission from the publishers. Surveying what's been happening for the last day, he told me, "I feel like Neo dodging bullets in the matrix."