Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, is the most popular YouTuber in the world. During a gaming livestream earlier on Sunday he dropped the n-word, but quickly apologized for his mistake. While most of his viewers forgave the outburst, social media blew up with outrage over his use of the racial slur, and one developer promised to issue a DMCA that could cause his channel to shut down.
Their actions may have serious ramifications for YouTube creators.
The YouTuber garnered his massive following of fans with his clever video editing and embrace—and even creation of popular Internet memes. Fans tune in for his daily videos poking fun at celebrities, current events, and even political correctness. He earned his career by playing video games, and remains one of the most popular entertainers in the scene.
The incident on Sunday isn’t Kjellberg’s first brush with infamy. He previously fell under the media’s gaze in February when the Wall Street Journal and other publications highlighted his “anti-Semitic jokes” in several satirical videos. Viewed in context, Kjellberg was lampooning other YouTubers and the media for sensationalizing news stories. Some outlets, including Wired, Mic, and Polygon, incorrectly labeled him an “alt-right” champion and a “white nationalist.”
Kjellberg issued a heartfelt apology to his viewers who were offended by any of his videos but remained steadfast in his disdain for political correctness and the progressive video games and tech media establishment. His remarks further angered game journalists who, in the perspective of YouTubers and gamers alike, have become increasingly irrelevant, according to popular YouTubers.
Following Kjellberg’s outburst, progressives and social justice warriors on Twitter—particularly gaming and tech journalists—erupted in outrage to denounce his use of the slur by branding him a “racist.” They called for swift repercussions, and one game developer responded with a promise to issue a copyright strike towards Kjellberg’s YouTube channel.
Sean Vanaman of Campo Santo, the creator of the award-winning 2016 video game Firewatch, posted a lengthy series of tweets to announce that the studio would be filing a DMCA takedown against the popular YouTuber.
“We’re filing a DMCA takedown of PewDiePie’s Firewatch content and any future Campo Santo games,” wrote Vanaman. “There is a bit of leeway you have to have with the internet when u wake up every day and make video games. There’s also a breaking point.” (sic)
“I am sick of this child getting more and more chances to make money off of what we make,” he continued. “He’s worse than a closeted racist: he’s a propagator of despicable garbage that does real damage to the culture around this industry.”
Hoping to create a domino effect, Vanaman called upon his colleagues in the game industry to follow suit with copyright claims of their own to bar Kjellberg from using YouTube and shut down his channel.
“I’d urge other developers & will be reaching out to folks much larger than us to cut him off from the content that has made him a millionaire,” wrote Vanaman. “Furthermore, we’re complicit: I’m sure we’ve made money off of the 5.7m views [Kjellberg’s demo of Firewatch] has and that’s something for us to think about.”
Vanaman’s threats and promise to involve other developers in getting Kjellberg’s channel shut down shifted the anger initially aimed at the YouTuber towards the video game studio. Numerous YouTubers and even observers who expressed their disappointment at the racial slur called Vanaman out for his arrogance.
YouTuber Daniel Keem, better known as Keemstar, responded with a passionate Twitter response video to express his anger at the game developer. He rebutted Vanaman’s claims that Kjellberg was somehow a parasite who made money from other people’s creations.
Know your fucking role @vanaman pic.twitter.com/vmw4ysg16C
— KEEM (@KEEMSTAR) September 10, 2017
“When you make these games, do you think that people are buying them because they read an article on Kotaku? Do you think they’re buying games because IGN gave them an 8.5? The fact that you would say PewDiePie makes money off of you is the funniest thing I have ever heard,” said Keem.
Keem highlighted how YouTubers are the reason games like Firewatch have sales by offering them free promotion and playing the game in front of thousands, if not millions of people. Keem, who is a game developer himself, says one of his games sold more than 20,000 additional copies over its initial 2,000 sales thanks to video coverage from Kjellberg.
Campo Santo may not even have a case to claim a copyright strike against Kjellberg. The company’s website states in opaque terms that YouTubers are allowed to share their experiences of the game and even monetize their videos.
Copyright attorney Leonard J. French weighed in on the issue to state that the terms served as an “official express license on streaming,” which is as legally binding as Terms of Service and Privacy Policies listed on a website.
Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.