With the rise of the internet came a new untamed frontier for intellectual property where pirates torrented music and movies and creators remixed old material to create completely new forms of entertainment.
Congress tried to be proactive in laying down the law in this new wild west by passing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
It was pretty comprehensive but the internet grew in ways the writers of that bill could not foresee.
They did not see the rise of the “let’s play”: recorded gameplay footage accompanied by commentary from the player and sometimes another host.
YouTube channels popped up solely dedicated to LP’s, some of them even received money off ad revenue.
For years these “monetized” channels ran without much problem protected by YouTube ostensibly under “fair use”, a legal doctrine that allows journalists, critics, and teachers to use copyrighted material for reporting, criticism, commentary, and education.
But in 2013 YouTube unleashed its automated ContentID system (bots designed to flag copyrighted material) onto these monetized channels, and suddenly video game publishers and media conglomerates could take the ad revenue from these videos for themselves or even take the video down entirely regardless of fair use.
Video game publishers have been abusing this system for years sometimes resorting to DMCA takedown notices for let’s players and reviewers who post in-game glitches, negative criticism, or anything not to the publisher’s liking.
This is exactly what Atlus threatened to do last week to streamers and potentially let’s players who showed Persona 5 gameplay past a certain point in the game.
Atlus USA said in a post titled “A Note on Persona 5 and Streaming”: “If you decide to stream past 7/7 (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND NOT DOING THIS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED), you do so at the risk of being issued a content ID claim or worse, a channel strike/account suspension.”
Showing concern for fans of the game who don’t want to be spoiled is admirable (it’s more care than Nintendo and Activision have for their fans, that’s for sure) but the way they approached this problem is pointless and characteristically out of touch for a Japanese publisher.
First of all somebody watching a stream, especially one that is explicitly a full game playthrough, should be well aware that there are going to be spoilers abound and doesn’t need to be “protected”.
Second of all, enforcing copyright strikes for non-copyright reasons can be seen as an inconsistent protection of intellectual property which is generally not a good look in IP court.
The article also only mentions “streamers” by name but “content ID” is specifically a YouTube system for recorded videos posted to the site.
Could a let’s player who commentates over a full playthrough be targeted?
What about someone who posts a full spoiler review or critique that contains footage from beyond the point Atlus deems kosher?
Unlike the gray and legally uncharted world of video game let’s plays, reviews and critiques using specific clips of gameplay for criticism are clearly protected under fair use.
Let’s call this for what this is: censorship.
It’s not out of malice, but rather it’s censorship out of ignorance of the ever-shifting landscape of digital media.
For many video game companies they want a near-complete control of the flow of information about their games like they did in the 80s and 90s, but in the free and open internet age it’s a downright draconian ideal.
It’s time for YouTube (or rather Google) to take a stand for its creators rather than capitulate to corporate bullies.
One method would be to tweak the Content ID system so that when a video gets a strike the ad revenue generated gets thrown into a pool, instead of being pocketed by the copyright holder.
If the user makes an appeal before a certain amount of time has passed, the dispute could be looked over with actual eyes (i.e. not a bot) to determine who has the proper claim on the content and by extension claim to the pool of ad revenue.
But this is YouTube we’re talking about here, the crown prince of “Don’t Rock the Boat.”Google would probably get rid of Google+ before sticking its neck out for its users and potentially upsetting corporate advertisers in the process.
It’s only a matter of time before a court steps in to make definitive ruling on what constitutes fair use on the internet and without a heavy-hitter like Google backing up YouTube users, the court may very well rule in favor of the copyright holders, thus stifling creativity on the video platform.
For now YouTubers are on their own when it comes to defending their content in the name of fair use and some have resorted to other forms of revenue stream outside of YouTube such as Patreon and direct sponsorships.
The internet changed how we watched movies, just like streaming is changing how we watch shows and content; another step in the tech cycle.
With YouTube looking to shift to more “original” content to compete with the likes of other subscription-based services Netflix and Amazon Prime, the age of the self-made YouTube star may be coming to an end.