I’m assuming that most of the readership here will have watched the odd YouTube gaming video, whether it’s a cutscene or a ‘Let’s Play’ or a multiplayer session with an obnoxious twenty-something-year-old screaming down the microphone (live webcam included, no doubt).
I enjoy YouTube and all it has to offer as a games journalist and enthusiast; I can find a lot of material there that simply doesn’t exist in any other medium. My viewing choices alternate between straight-up gameplay commentary, news clips and the equivalent of radio shows. In many ways YouTube has replaced my television viewing in tandem with Netflix. I like being able to watch what I want and when I want.
So it should come as no surprise to myself or anyone who watches any amount of YouTube’s colossal number of gaming channels that people are annoyed about Google’s recent activity. A bit of context is needed here, so let me paint the backdrop before I set up the current scene…
Basically, YouTube has been fighting a long series of battles since it began to grow into the world-dominating monster that it has become. These battles are centred on the content users can upload to their channels on YouTube. People will put up a lot of film and TV clips (or entire films/TV shows), soundtracks and images that do not in fact belong to them, constituting what is essentially an act of copyright theft, or piracy. This is a major pain in the backside that Google, who own YouTube, are still trying to deal with and will in all likelihood be dealing with for as long as the internet exists.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was created to reinforce and protect the rights of content creators across all media – film, television, music and gaming for the most part, because it is from these sectors that a lot of content would be ‘stolen’ frequently.
As far as the games industry is concerned YouTube is now synonymous with marketing practices, but to what extent publishers will tolerate users uploading footage of their products will depend on the publishers in question.
SEGA has been demonised by a greater portion of the YouTube community; a couple of years ago they swept through YouTube with a fine comb and actively blocked or placed strikes against users who had uploaded footage from, or who talked about, the Saturn classic Shining Force III. Nintendo aren’t much better regarded, having flagged a number of videos made by games commentators and journalists which featured trailer footage from franchises such as Pokemon.
Other publishers have happily endorsed the YouTube community. Mojang of Minecraft fame has never asked users not to post gameplay or commentaries on the blocky world-building phenomenon. Similarly, Activision-Blizzard are known for turning a blind eye to the YouTube personalities that have sprung up around the Call of Duty franchise. There are many other publishing companies, big and small, that have followed suit and for good reason: YouTube is a great way to promote games.
The music, film and television industries are less enthused by the ways in which users can profit from their material. It would be fair to suggest that they are scared of YouTube and the internet in general – and they should be. It’s now easier than ever for companies and artists to lose money, thanks to programmes like BitTorrent which enable the downloading and proliferation of just about ANYTHING without the content creators ever seeing a penny for their hard work.
YouTube, whether we like it or not, is part of the piracy process. Google has been stuck between a rock and a hard place for some time now, so sooner or later ‘something’ had to happen. The recent copyright blitzkrieg, which has seen video after video on YouTube flagged by its automatic screening process for music, images and footage belonging to third parties, is that ‘something’.
When a video gets flagged for “third-party content match”, the user who uploaded the video in question will not receive any revenue the video might generate. Instead, that revenue goes to the “third party” (whoever they are). Needless to say, a lot of us are annoyed. Particularly those whose livelihoods depend on creating reviews, features and interviews centred on the games industry. It’s never a pleasant feeling when you wonder if a video that’s taken you days to make will be generating income for someone other than yourself.
Instead of seeing copyright policies as a forest fire ruthlessly burning through everything it touches, YouTubers (games commentators and reviewers in particular) need to start looking at the enactment of these policies as a flashlight shining into the grey areas nobody wanted to examine too closely before.
It’s not as if the system was perfect. Videos were made and users hoped that today wasn’t the day a games publisher decided they didn’t want their material being used. Gaming channels and critics were tolerated more than they were endorsed. Now, in the wake of all this copyright flagging, developers and publishers are proactively supporting YouTubers by releasing public statements declaring that they’re happy for their games to be used in user videos.
Deep Silver, Capcom and Naughty Dog are three of the big names leading the charge, and there are more publishers announcing their support in the wake of Google’s aggressive flagging system. Claims are popping up for a lot of in-game music and sound effects; things that should, in theory, belong to the game publishers depending on the artists and the contracts they signed. The legal specifics may vary on a case-by-case basis.
This is, in short, the kind of thing YouTube needed to happen in order for its content creators to be taken seriously. It was always going to be a messy process, given the fact that copyright laws are ridiculously outdated, but users who upload content can’t just sit in the grey area forever.
Lines must be drawn with clear and concise legal terms that enshrine the rights of critics, artists, creators and viewers. Most important of all, the games industry needs to officially recognise the fact that an online audience want to watch and be part of the ongoing process. Publishers (like SEGA and Nintendo) who stick their heads in the sand will find themselves in a weaker position, given time, because if viewers can’t watch content focusing on their games then they will be watching other publishers’ games instead.