YouTube sparks strange storm of copyright claims on video game content producers

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YouTube, game publishers, and video makers have always had a difficult relationship. Video content creators, those who create gameplay videos or review games on YouTube, have been going through trusted services like Machinima to create game content for years now. They can often make a lot of money doing this and have generally been protected by fair dealing, or the idea that their work helps sell the product they are talking about.

The problem is, yes, technically they are using copyrighted images and / or music in their videos, content that is owned by the people who make the games. Usually, publishers have been content to let this idea slip away, knowing how important the essentially free press can be when it comes to selling their games, and how influential some of these content producers are.

Everything changed this week, however, as something finally broke. YouTube sent thousands upon thousands of copyright notices on gameplay videos to famous and amateur content creators. YouTube staples that have made hundreds of videos with few copyright infringement complaints are suddenly drowning in it, as part of YouTube’s new crackdown on previously unenforced video game restrictions.

What is happening here? It’s hard to say, and the details are still being worked out. The common idea is that YouTube tries to cover itself up in case these game companies try to enforce their copyright laws and end up suing YouTube, which has all the money, unlike the content creators, who do not.

But this copyright notice storm is especially bizarre when you look at the details. YouTubers report that at least half of the reviews they receive have nothing to do with the companies that make the games they are talking about. Some developers like Capcom and Deep Silver have already issued statements saying they are investigating “false flags” in their content and have not requested such withdrawals. YouTube itself has yet to respond to a request for comment on the situation.

What is probably happening is that YouTube or

Google
have implemented some sort of new algorithm that automatically detects this stuff and issues notices accordingly. But naturally, this is deeply problematic for a whole legion of content producers who make a full-time living from monetized YouTube videos with this type of content.

The problem is, Google and YouTube have the right to do whatever they want, and you can’t really dispute that. They just couldn’t share ad revenue with YouTubers, and there would still be millions of videos on the site. When you rely on one site for your income, any change in policy can destroy you instantly. See how Zynga fell apart after Facebook more or less banned them from news feeds.

That said, game companies should be the ones doing everything in their power to fight this wave of copyright notices that are decimating their biggest fans and the most effective promoters. While it’s perfectly understandable why something like a full episode of a TV show or movie should be removed from someone’s private YouTube channel, it’s different for games.

Often times, the creators of YouTube game content are some of the best viral advocates that game companies can ask for. They’re organic, honest, funny, and most importantly, free. Allowing someone to stream your gameplay doesn’t cost you anything, and if someone with 5,000-5 million YouTube subscribers makes a video about your product, love it or hate it, you sell more copies.

While YouTube and Google can do whatever they want, they should work with content creators and game developers to make sure that whatever is happening right now is some sort of bizarre, automated chance rather than a new policy officially enforced. Content creators attract more people to YouTube, move copies of games, and get paid in the process. All three parties come out on top, and it shouldn’t even be a debate.

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