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YouTube's Copyright Crackdown And Its Effect on Gameplay Videos

Written by Jeremy Shane on Thursday, December 12 2013 and posted in News with Benefits

YouTube's Copyright Crackdown And Its Effect on Gameplay Videos

Recent policy changes for YouTube have impacted hundreds of content providers and proved how their automated content ID system isn't the best solution.

If you are into gaming enough that you watch videos about games on  YouTube, then you have probably encountered some discussion of what's going on.  There is a lot of information flying about on this issue right now and I wanted to try and get to the bottom of the basics.

*Note - You'll hear me use the phrase "gameplayers" throughout.  This is referring to gamers that use gameplay footage in their online videos, not just all people playing games.  I use this term instead of letsplayers because that term talks about one type of gameplay uploader, when this is effecting reviewers, letsplayers, news coverage, and more.

YouTube's Role  

YouTube currently makes use of an automated system it calls Content ID, to police their huge network for copyright infringements.  This is what allows a site with the amount of videos and traffic of their size to run smoothly, at least for YouTube, if not always the content creators.  Companies can upload their own copyrighted material into the Content ID system and it will search for a match for movie clips, songs, and more and automatically flag the content.

The Content ID system scans the equivalent of 400 years of video every day, which is matched against a database with 25 million reference files of copyrighted content. About 5,000 content partners use the service, including TV broadcasters, movie studios and record labels. - YouTube

It doesn't always work like it should, more often screwing over the content creator, but that's ok for YouTube because it doesn't anger the folks with the money to sue with - studios and corporations.  Now, there are processes to dispute claims, partially just as automated as the Content ID system, but more often than not, if your video is owned by you or falls under "Fair Use" you'll get control of your video back. 

If you would really like to dive into how the Content ID system works, check out this video from YMS.  He has had to deal with this problem, that is just now effecting scores of gameplayers, for years now because his stuff deals with movie reviews.  It shows you how broken the system can be at times.  During the entire process of disputing a Content ID match your flagged videos will not be earning you any money and your entire channel can potentially be in danger.

Unfortunately, in addition to just natural robotic mismatches, the system can also be exploited.  Companies that have nothing to do with any of the content in a video can potentially file claims against a video to have it taken down or have their own ads placed on the video in place of yours.  Of course, one solution to this would be more actual people working for YouTube and less automation.  This would cost money however, and even though YouTube is making a pretty sizable chunk of money of advertising, I wouldn't count on them cutting into that.

One way that some folks, mainly those that do video game letsplays, reviews, and commentary have been able to avoid all those Content ID headaches is to join a "Multi-Channel Network."  Being part of an MCN makes them immune, for the most part, to automated Content ID matches. 


Multi-Channel Networks

Most major gameplayers are part of one of these Networks - if you've ever seen the Machinima channel for example, well, that's a network.  There are a large number of them out there and if you sign a contract with them, you get this "protected" status (partially from some copyright claims, but completely from Content ID matching), but they take a piece of your profits from the ads on your videos, some as high as 50%.  Being part of a Network also enabled you to get your videos approved more monetization virtually instantly as opposed to the traditional method of having to wait for automated approval that could take days or weeks - killing your ability to get content up in a timely manner.  Plus, even if you did get approval on your video initially, it could later be flagged for additional approval later by YouTube.

The reason they were protected, was because the Network was supposed to be performing the task of verifying that their uploaders were posting material that they were within legal rights to post.  But, as the gameplay video business grew, so did the Networks, until they eventually were just picking up any random youtuber that had enough subscribers.  They were not actually verifying uploads, just adding folks to their network and raking in their cut.

This may have added pressure to Google behind the scenes from media corporations to actually do some work since their automated Content ID system now had a work-around.  This has lead many content creators and users to be angry with YouTube, when they should be angry with these Networks.  As for Google/YouTube, their part has been the same as always, with their dysfunctional Content ID system in place.  It's just that system is suddenly getting much more attention because it's effecting hundreds of gaming personalities with large audiences.

What's happening is that YouTube has told Networks that any copyright issues for folks under their umbrella can impact the Network as a whole and even cause the whole Network to be impacted, losing features and even losing access to Google Adsense under enough copyright violations.  So the Networks have had to choose which of their uploaders they are willing to support under this and have decided to split their content creators into two categories:  Affiliates and Managed Members.  Members retain their protected status, they are the folks the Network is willing to go to bat for.  Affiliates, however, are now subject to the same Content ID matches the rest of the YouTube community constantly deals with.

We recently enabled Content ID scanning on channels identified as affiliates of MCNs.  This has resulted in new copyright claims for some users, based on policies set by the relevant content owners. - YouTube

This is also why, depending on which youtuber's videos you've seen on the matter, you get different stories.  You have some Network members that have huge channels and are unaffected, you have Affiliates that are suddenly getting destroyed by Content ID matches, and you have even more youtubers that have never been part of a Network and dealing with Content ID all along that don't see what all the fuss is about.  The unfortunate thing for Affiliates is that 1) they are having to deal with multiple Content ID issues at once, which can cripple or even delete a channel and 2) they are still under contract with these Networks, so they are losing up to 50% of their revenue and no longer getting a benefit.

Multi-Channel Networks, by not doing what they signed up to do originally have created much of this mess.  It doesn't alleviate YouTube's responsibility for the shortcomings of Content ID, but these middle-men have exploited a system, forcing them to change it.  What could have continued on as a decent solution to Content ID is now slowly disappearing.



But what of those people that make the games to begin with?  What's their role?

For the most part it will vary company by company.  Both Nintendo and Sega have had temporary issues in the past with butting heads with gameplayers, something that resulted in a lot of negative attention for the companies.  They eventually reversed their decisions at that time, but you still see some other game-makers looking at specific networks to exclusively allow their content. 

An argument often comes down to whether or not the video creators are just riding on the coattails of the game-maker's content.  Although there are many examples out there of bad YouTube channels and of exploits, for the most part, this argument has proven to be false.  Most of the large YouTube personalities have a following and get views no matter what they are showing.  Third-Party Indie Games they demo have as many views as Triple-A titles they demo.  Some youtubers simply use multi-player footage of Call of Duty, Minecraft, or similar group games over and over for a background to their own commentary as they discuss something with viewers.  Time and time again, it is shown that the big channels on YouTube get their views because of their personalities, not only because of the games they are playing.

'But still,' you say, 'it's the game-makers content, it's their decision to allow it.'  Well, even many game-makers support this practice.  Many indie-game creators have asked gameplayers to check out their games.  EA courted many well know Call of Duty gameplayers to try and and use their Battlefield 4 footage in their videos.  Blizzard, Ubisoft, Bethesda and Capcom have all come out in support of gameplayers during this YouTube issue.  A larger concern should be for those companies that deal exclusively with one Network in the future, creating an atmosphere of review approval or payola.

The big issue returns, once again, to Content ID.  Often content is getting flagged that shouldn't be, or content is getting flagged that is borderline.  There was an issue of one gamers video of a game being flagged by IGN because IGN had uploaded a review of that game by them into Content ID and it matched it saying IGN owned the footage of this companies video game.  You have third party companies abusing the system and claiming content they have no right to.  Something YouTube threatens with punishment in their terms, but it doesn't seem to be enforced.  Overall, the automated system is full of flaws that hurt every side in this issue.  Personally, I think YouTube should bite the bullet, eat the cost of additional employees and just make a few less hundred thousand in the millions a year they make.  The benefit could be a more effective website with better longevity.


The YouTubers

I realize it can be difficult for those of us grinding away at various jobs in our lives to feel sorry for people that make money playing video games and uploading videos.  But let's be clear, it really isn't a job everyone can do.  Aside from having a personality that attracts people to want to watch you talk about something constantly, it takes a lot of work.  I myself have made a handful of mediocre videos and have to say the amount of work and investment in gear it can take just to produce something for fifteen minutes is staggering.  I can only imagine what bigger channels, constantly producing daily footage go through.

But to be frank, the problem is that there is still a lot of crap out there.  This waters down the product and is something that Multi-Channel Networks could have been the solution to.  Perhaps this new, more watchful YouTube over Networks can still do that, but gamers that care about that part of the industry can do something as well - produce quality content.  It's much better to be able to point to examples of quality content when these arguments come up than it is to point out someone, for example, cutting all the cutscenes from Injustice: Gods Among Us together so viewers can just watch the little mini-movie without needing the game.  If you don't have something to add that is different than the content you are showing, then you are violating that copyright.

And pay attention to what you are uploading.  Some games that are running into issues now aren't butting heads with publishers, but with the music industry.  Songs used in trailers, cutscenes, or even in the background of a game (like a station you choose in a driving game, songs playing for games like Rockband or Dance party, for example) can be claimed by the creators of that content, without the game-makers doing anything about it.

In the end, it's a bad situation for those gameplayers still stuck in a contract with these NetworksYouTube could do the right thing and pressure them to release those Affiliates from their contracts and work to improve their own ContentID system, but I wouldn't count on that.  All I can say is good luck to you, I stuck my foot in the YouTube water a while ago and decided it wasn't for me, so I applaud your ability to stick with the hassle that comes along with it.  Perhaps one day, a rival will come along that does a better job at some of the things YouTube falls short at (and hopefully Google, owners of the video website, doesn't just buy them and eat them).

Until then, you can always start up your own site and host your own videos and skip YouTube altogether like Classic Game Room. It's a bit more work, but it does offer you freedom.  Some of you guys have large enough channels to make a huge dent doing something like that.





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About the Author - Jeremy Shane

Jeremy was born in a small mountain village of a strange foreign land called Weystvurginea.  Banishment for liberal views saw him spend years wondering the east coast until he decided to bike to California.  When he saw how long a trip it was, he drove instead.  Now he's living it up in a low humidity climate, sometimes working on his photography and when not, he writes for us covering books (by way of his blog: Reading Realms), gaming, tv, movies, comics, conventions in the SoCal area, and creates a weekly webcomic: A Journey Through Skyrim.  If you look for him offline, start in the L.A. area; online start at: for his profile and all the social networks he's on... or just follow him on twitter, he seems to be on there a lot: @jeremyshane.


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