Game Critic Says YouTube Copyright Policy Threatens His Livelihood [Update]

Three of "Angry Joe" Vargas' 10 most-viewed videos on YouTube, and dozens of others, have been flagged by YouTube's controversial "content ID" system, meaning the independent games critic and personality can't earn any advertising money from them. Last night, Angry Joe responded, very much in character.


Vargas, who has 1.1 million subscribers and more than 400 videos on the service, fulminated about YouTube, video game publishers and other copyright holders in an 18-minute rant (above), saying YouTube's recent crackdown threatens the livelihood he built from nothing back in 2009.

"Four fucking years of hard work, now in jeopardy, because of your new blanket system that completely favors big corporations and anybody with a lot of [money] whether it's right or wrong," Vargas says.

Vargas' show and accompanying site,, offers reviews of video games, interviews of developers and other commentary, some of it satirical. He is perhaps best known for an interview at E3 2013 in which he took Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb of Microsoft to task for the Xbox One's online check-in requirements, to which Hryb responded that Microsoft couldn't just "flip a switch" to turn them off. When Microsoft indeed removed this requirement, Hryb's reply became a meme. It's one of several videos with more than a million views for Vargas.

Neither that interview nor its follow up rant (Vargas most popular video overall) are among the 62 he says were flagged by the content ID bot YouTube appears to be using more aggressively over the past week. Several YouTubers, with large and small viewerships, began receiving a flood of notices saying their videos had been flagged for unauthorized use of someone else's copyrighted material—whether that was audio or video. When such a claim is made, the uploader can no longer run ads on the video, and the supposed rights-holder can even collect money by running their own advertisements unless they release the claim.

His reviews of Far Cry 3, BioShock Infinite and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim all have more than a million views and all have been flagged (a full list scrolls up at 3:46 of the above video.) But Vargas is particularly infuriated that two 10-minute interviews he conducted were flagged by YouTube for infringing content. One is a 2012 interview about Tomb Raider with Karl Stewart of Crystal Dynamics, and the other is a 2009 interview with Matt Turner of Electronic Arts about Army of Two: The 40th Day.


The interviews are intercut with gameplay footage. In Tomb Raider's case, about four minutes in total are used from what appears to be Tomb Raider's E3 2012 trailer and the game's demonstration during Microsoft's news conference during that expo. Indeed, a couple of shots show the audience at the news conference, suggesting it was footage taken from a broadcast.

It's less clear what could be objectionable in the Army of Two interview, which features plenty of gameplay footage, and also an extended outro during which "O Fortuna," better known as that song from Excalibur, plays over gunfire.


Vargas' video didn't show the content claim placed on either video, though he strongly indicated Square Enix, publisher of Tomb Raider, was responsible in its case. Kotaku tried to contact Vargas through email and Twitter today but was unsuccessful.

"My Tomb Raider interview, with the Tomb Raider people, has been claimed by Tomb Raider," Vargas says in the video. "What right do you have to my interview with a Tomb Raider person?!"


Fourteen other reviews of video games, some of them negative, some very positive (including BioShock Infinite) also were flagged, suggesting that either gameplay, gameplay trailers, or even songs in the soundtracks were discovered by YouTube's bot. (Vargas had videos for Star Wars Kinect flagged because they featured the films' original soundtrack.) The flagging does not remove a video from circulation but it does prevent its owner from earning ad revenue from it until the claim is resolved.

Some video game publishers have responded to the controversy by asking video uploaders to contact them with any content ID matches YouTube's system has made on their behalf. But YouTube's dispute resolution system gives a copyright holder 30 days to respond to an appeal. It means someone like Vargas has to spend a lot of time answering these claims and then potentially forego a month of ad revenue he expected to earn from them. Furthermore, if a copyright holder insists the use is unauthorized and YouTube sides with them, it can result in a copyright violation strike against the channel owner. Three strikes, and the account is banned.


"I quit my job four years ago, and it was really fucking risky at that time," Vargas says. "And the risk paid off. Because I poured myself into this, 80 hours, 70 hours a week. I've been doing this the past four fucking years with no vacation. And now all of it is in jeopardy. I have no idea what to do.

"I can no longer illustrate the points I need to make," he says, "That's what makes my show strong. I want to ask questions about Destiny, I want to ask questions about Titanfall. I want to ask questions about Witcher 3 without worrying, 'If I put up that video on YouTube, is it gonna get claimed?'


Update, 12/13: There are multiple perspectives as to what's going on here. A smaller video channel, Ohmwrecker (or the Masked Gamer) gathered a lot of attention with the following rebuttal, which says the anger directed at YouTube is misplaced.

Ohmwrecker assigns blame to multi-channel networks, or MCNs, which are large entities that have direct relationships with YouTube. Affiliating with an MCN in the past would shield a channel from YouTube's content ID match scan. What's happening now is an MCN's stable of channels are being split into groups called "managed" and "affiliates." Managed, typically those with large subscriber bases, remain protected. Affiliates do not. The difference between "managed" and "affiliate" often has to do with a channel's subscriber base and its relationship with the MCN.

TotalBiscuit is a member of the same MCN as Ohmwrecker (Polaris) and offers this take on the situation as well.

And Angry Joe (also a Polaris channel) has offered this followup to his rant above, in which he goes through some of the videos that were flagged, and why, and offers his thoughts on how to fix the situation.



Not to be mean, but these "youtubers" really should've thought of a backup plan instead of putting all their eggs in the youtube basket for their livelihood.