If you've ever used YouTube, chances are you have encountered copyright issues, perhaps for music, or for using a clip from a movie. However, YouTubers are receiving Copyright Strikes, for posting video game footage!
Many gamers who upload footage of video games to YouTube are still getting troubling "content ID" matches that threaten to upend YouTube's gaming content as we know it. But on day three of this controversy, some game publishers appear to be taking steps to help these gamers out.
This story is unfolding rapidly as so-called Content ID notices continue to fill the inbox of big and small gaming YouTubers. Meanwhile, YouTubers and a bevy of game creators are taking to Twitter to talk about it, posting helpful videos to YouTube explaining the situation and talking directly to reporters like me.
Content claims do keep coming in, as YouTube's copyright-sniffing bots continue to crawl any monetized videos—videos on which the uploader is running ads—in search of matching content that might infringe on someone's rights. Those bots are claiming videos on behalf of game publishers, music rights holders and, in some cases, seemingly random parties. Once the bot sniffs out the content match, the gamer who uploaded it loses the ability to run ads and the supposed rights-holder can begin to collect money by running their own ads unless they release their claim.
"They've gotten worse," YouTuber Zack Scott told me, a day after we first talked about the torrent of claims he's received. "Music publishers are not releasing claims, but Capcom has so far. The third parties seem to not be releasing them either."
Capcom is one of several gaming publishers to publicly state that they're not behind this and don't want YouTubers to get wrongly caught up in this. Technically, each game publisher can choose to let these videos go or claim them. Today, there have been numerous signs that game companies want to be lenient here.
The most impressive statement from a publisher came from Deep Silver, the company behind Metro Last Light, Saint's Row and Dead Island, which Tweeted a statement the shows just how complicated and messed up this situation has been:
We have been working with YouTube to resolve various issues that have plagued the YouTube gaming community this week, as soon as we learned about what was going on.
1. A channel named "4GamerMovie" has been claiming reviews, Let's Plays, and Walkthrough videos for our games, including Metro: Last Light. We raised this issue with YouTube late last evening (CET) and from the reports we've gotten in the past hours, it seems that claims by this channel have been lifted. If this is not the case, please dispute the claim and link us your video in question via Twitter to @deepsilver.
2. Claims on titles like Saints Row IV, Dead Island Riptide, and Metro: Last Light have also been made by two companies involved with music: IDOL and Shock Entertainment Pty. Some claims are even about visual content. At the time of writing, this has not been resolved yet. However, we have made YouTube aware of this issue and the two companies in question do not seem to be restricting their wave of copyright claims to just Deep Silver titles. We hope that this situation will also be resolved quickly for all involved.
3. If you have received any claims by THQ for videos containing footage of Deep Silver titles, please dispute this claim and send us a tweet to @deepsilver including a link to the video in question. We can help with that.
Deep Silver has no intention of preventing players, who like to create gaming content on YouTube using our games, from doing so. Nor do we seek to block any videos of the kind. This includes Let's Play, Walkthrough, Review, or other edited or commentated videos that are monetized by a player.
Whether your opinion of our games is positive or negative in your YouTube video, it is not our right as a games publisher to infringe on your basic right to voice your opinion freely using a public platform.
We will be monitoring the changes on YouTube and any other online medium that lets our fans share their common passion for games, and react and adapt to facilitate our communities wherever they are.
You will not be alone in this, whatever changes may come. Within the games industry, including at our competitors, there are many who share this vision. Adapting to change may sometimes take time, so we hope that the gaming community will be patient with not just us, but others as well, as we collectively strive to resolve any issues that arise.
Videos of the game The Last of Us have been flagged left and right, but the game's development studio, Naughty Dog, like others, has expressed concern on behalf of content uploaders:
— Naughty Dog (@Naughty_Dog) December 11, 2013
A YouTube spokseperson confirmed that content sweeps have intensified this week, but did not address my questions about whether the video service was aware of the widespread concerns of gaming YouTubers about the changes.
"We recently enabled Content ID scanning on channels identified as affiliates of MCNs," the spoksesperson said, referring to YouTube channels that are tied to bigger multi-channel networks. "This has resulted in new copyright claims for some users, based on policies set by the relevant content owners. As ever, channel owners can easily dispute Content ID claims if they believe those claims are invalid."
YouTube has a system for allowing its users to push back against Content ID claims, but gamers who could use that system tell me that it is severely flawed.
"As soon as you receive a content ID notification, it immediately comes into effect, there's absolutely no disputing it," a gamer named Nathan who runs a small channel called Analog Reviews told me. "The monetization feature is immediately removed from that video and it's impossible to ever add it again. There is the option to dispute the claim but Youtube can take months to get back to you. When they actually respond, they're generally not helpful at all."
Some YouTubers also fear that disputing a claim could get their channel killed on YouTube. A Content ID match alone doesn't penalize a channel, but disputing a content claim and having that claim rejected can result in a copyright violation notice. A few of those and you lose your channel.
The best way to dispute a Content ID claim, it turns out, might be to go to the press. The Analog Reviews review of Tomb Raider got hit with a claim by... Tomb Raider.
I asked a PR rep for Tomb Raider publisher Square Enix about this one and was swiftly notified that the studio behind the game removed the claim—a claim, it should be noted, they never actively made, since YouTube's bots made it for them. The rep said that each Square Enix studio sets their own policy regarding what kind of videos and monetization they'll tolerate on YouTube. The standing Tomb Raider policy suggests that Analog Reviews' Tomb Raider piece might have technically crossed a few lines, but not in any severe way that seems outside the bounds of a standard game review.
Analog Reviews has had many other reviews flagged. These are reviews that Nathan has spent hours putting together, editing footage, scripting and delivering voiceover, all for not much money.
Most of the time, it seems to Nathan, the claimant seems to have rights to music in the game. It's unclear whether that's a proper objection, though, given that the music itself is part of the game or licensed to it. But as soon as the content ID match is made, Nathan can't make more money. For a blocked Last of Us review, he figures he's only made $50 but can't make more until this is resolved. "I realize it's not a lot of money but it's more the principle of it. If that video were to go viral in the future or if we continue to grow as a channel, it has absolutely no potential to make anything now."
Some of the content ID matches that gamers have been hit with are baffling. YouTuber NukemDukem (real name Doug), for example, is still wondering why his video of Beyond Two Souls got flagged by content supposedly claimed by Hearst Magazines UK and BAFTA:
Watch the video yourself at the listed timecodes and see if you can figure it out.
"I did not change the video," Doug told me. "I have no idea what they are even claiming maybe they took a screen shot and put it in their magazine and claimed it? I disputed the claims because it was a press review copy given to me by Sony. No responses, by either Hearst or Sony (I just e-mailed Sony 3 hours ago)."
One of the best explanations of this week's content ID fiasco was posted to the Force Strategy Gaming YouTube channel. It shows just about everything and may lead you wondering whether footage of a game that is used in part of a longer YouTube piece should really be claimed in its entirety by the firm that has rights to the game's boss battle music.
"We don't really bring in that much money from monetization but when we spend about 10 hours playing through a game to record footage and then another 10 hours writing a script as well as editing the video, having someone take 100% of the ad-revenue is a slap in the face," Nathan from Analog Reviews told me. "I don't see why publishers would be doing this, considering a review is just more exposure/advertising. I would also be completely fine with the studios maybe taking 20% but 100% is ridiculous for having relevant game music in the background or showing a piece of gameplay that happens to be flagged."
It seems that some game publishers might actually agree with him.
Some publishers, such as Paradox and Ubisoft, are already on the record about supporting gamers' ability to post footage of their games to YouTube. IGN spotted a statement from Ubisoft that addresses this week's incidents in greater detail:
"As you're probably aware, many YouTubers this week have suddenly been hit with various copyright claims related to in-game audio. In June last year, Ubisoft set out its policy opening the door for channels to make videos using game content and to monetise bespoke content.
"If you happen to be hit with claims on any of your Ubisoft content, it may be that some of the audio is being auto-matched against the music catalogue on our digital stores - it might show up as being claimed by our distributor 'idol'. In such cases please take the following steps and we can get it cleared for you.
"Hope this helps, thanks for all your support over the past year and for all the amazing videos! Look forward to working with you in a very exciting 2014!"
- Leave the video live for now.
- Send us the URL of the affected video and let us know who flagged it.
- We'll get it cleared hopefully same day.
Ubisoft's mention of idol music is key. It seems that a lot of these Content ID matches are tied to automatic claims by companies in charge of large music libraries. Ubisoft is in the position to tell their music partners to let this fly. But, until they do, YouTubers won't be able to run ads and will see their own business hurt. I've heard from YouTubers who have been waiting months for claims to be cleared, even after they've been told by claimants' lawyers that they'll do so quickly.
There are certainly arguments to be made that people who create games and music should make money off of the use of those games and music, especially if someone else is. But many YouTubers make convincing arguments that they're adding to the conversation about games, performing traditional criticism of games that you've seen in print for years and that they're even giving games free advertising. They find YouTube's way of policing content lacking. It certainly raises a lot of questions. And so I'll be following this story, I'm sure, for days and weeks to come.