Why you can’t play games on YouTube anymore

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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YouTube’s most popular gameplay reviewers and players were hit with copyright violations this week, threatening one of the most popular growing uses of the site.

In recent years, gamers have used YouTube to post gameplay videos reviewing or playing popular video games. “Let’s play” videos, which feature the video feed of a player’s game coupled with their ad-libbed commentary, have become especially popular.

Well-known “let’s play” producers or game reviewers can earn tens of thousands of dollars a month from the ads attached to their videos on YouTube, and video game production companies have been content to allow videos of their products to stay up, presumably under the belief that the free promotion is a boon to sales — especially among players with a large following.

All of that may change after YouTube gameplay channels with millions of subscribers received copyright claims this week demanding compensation for the use of gameplay footage under YouTube’s recent enforcement of gameplay video rules.

Even major video content creator networks like Machinima — thought to be an approved service because of fair use — were hit with copyright notices.

“A floodgate has opened and we have gone from getting maybe one (copyright notice) every few weeks to getting hundreds in one day,” Zach Drapala, who operates a Machinima channel with over 600,000 subscribers, said on Polygon. “It’s crazy. Nothing like this has happened before.”

Hundreds of notices were sent out to creators — including those with direct ties to game developers — informing them of copyright violations and diverting money from up to 15 percent of their videos.

YouTube lets copyright owners use a search tool called Content ID to identify, flag, block, or demand revenue from ads featured on any videos containing their content.

Early reports indicate the notices don’t appear to be coming from game producers themselves but from YouTube, which may be enforcing the restrictions for fear of being sued by developers in the future.

Capcom — a longtime Japanese developer — has already stated it did not flag any of its intellectual property on YouTube, and is investigating the requests for removal of such content.

The videos are undoubtedly in questionable copyright space. At first glance it would appear the fall under the fair use clause of copyright law, especially regarding videos posted by media outlets.

However such videos also often contain soundtracks and images that could come from the game developer itself to third-parties that have loaned their content to a project under contracted uses.

While such a move was expected from Nintendo, who said it would seek to monetize videos of its content earlier this year, notices appear to have come from developers traditionally supportive of let’s play videos.

Whatever the reason, the sudden influx of notices has both gamers and developers reeling, and awaiting an explanation from YouTube.

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