The battle between content creators and copyright holders is still being waged.
I watch a ton of YouTube videos; just ask my wife, Jennifer. I’d say that in any given month, I spend about an hour a day at least just watching different content creators talk about anything from indie games to science topics. It’s actually very entertaining and enlightening for me.
One YouTube creator in particular has been in the spotlight lately, having been the focus of a haphazard campaign to silence and reprimand him for his unfavorable opinions regarding a certain game “developer”.
I quoted “developer”, because the title only fits the “developer” loosely. You see, I have a considerable amount of experience writing, a moderate level of experience with programming, and a fair amount of experience with 3D modeling and animating; and one thing I’ve learned during the building of that experience is that true creation in those endeavors is real work. Some developers don’t put any real work into their games, and have become the type of companies that have become known for the practice of “asset flipping”, or buying open source assets on digital storefronts for the purpose of reselling a hodge-podge of assets, or simply uploading whole games on a new storefront to be sold as their own work.
You might have already guessed that I’m speaking about Digital Homicide and Jim Sterling (Romine v. Stanton), and the extensive legal battle that has stemmed from Mr. Sterling’s harsh (yet accurate) criticism of The Slaughtering Grounds. You may have heard that the dispute between the “developer” and Mr. Sterling has been dismissed, but instead of my trying to summarize the suit, I’d like to refer you to a far more capable expert, Mr. Leonard French.
Copyright has been an issue for some time in the realm of content creators like Jim Sterling, and even a YouTube channel I recently discovered, SidAlpha. However, it hasn’t been an issue in the sense that they’ve been violating the law in the pursuit of their work. Instead, copyright law has been abused and ignored in the pursuit of both silencing dissent or preventing any use of copyrighted assets (as is the case with Nintendo, Konami, Sony, and 2K Games).
Better minds have covered this issue before, and I’d be happy to refer you to them (see links below), but I feel that it’s important for those that are consumers of videogames, and gaming related content, to be at least aware of the legal issues that so many have been dealing with. Copyright law is something that was originally designed to protect the works of creators from being copied, to “promote the progress of the sciences and useful arts”.
Let’s take a moment to digest that bit of the United States Constitution (not literally, of course). Copyright is designed to help people maintain ownership of their intellectual property, and prevent damage to it through copying.
However, that isn’t how copyright laws have been used by many companies in regards to the usage of game footage in reviews, criticisms, and streams. No, instead some companies have seen fit to try and stifle the use of game footage with draconian policies that violate Fair Use provisions in order to “protect” the intellectual property they own.
The likes of Nintendo and Konami generally block the use of anything resembling their IPs and seize ad money made on YouTube videos. In some cases they even monetize YouTube videos that weren’t monetized in the first place. Nintendo answered criticism of their ridiculously strict policies on copyright by graciously creating their Nintendo Creators Program, which gives a portion of the proceeds from advertising on the creator’s YouTube videos to the person that actually made the videos… You know, the videos that the creators created. The ones that are being watched by people solely because the creator is creating them. Did I mention that Nintendo picks and chooses what games can be recorded? How generous of them.
Worse still, some companies have seen fit to weaponize copyright law by using tools meant to combat actual copyright infringement. These wonderful companies issue unlawful copyright claims against videos, and in some cases even take creators to court over making videos about their IPs.
Digital Homicide and its owners have been at the center of not only an attempt to sue Steam users for negative reviews, but also the lawsuit of Romine v. Stanton, as I mentioned above. Other issues have cropped up for other up-and-coming creators, like SidAlpha in his dealings with Dentola Studios. In that case, Dentola Studios issued a flippant takedown of a criticism of their games (which are copy-pasted from the Unity asset store) by abusing the copyright claim function of YouTube, despite not having any legitimate grounds to take the video down. The whole point of the takedown wasn’t to protect an IP in the sense that SidAlpha was copying their “work”, but rather that he was critical of the games they tried to flip… because he pointed out that they were bought and resold without modifications.
The important distinction there is that he simply stated a fact that the games were resold without modification.
So Where Does That Leave Things?
The Dentola debacle is hardly the first time copyright laws have been abused in this day and age, and it will likely not be the last. However, with rulings such as the Romine v. Stanton case being thrown out, and the Lenz v. Universal Music Corporation case being settled in favor of honoring Fair Use, it’s possible that we may be on the brink of a change in the favor of content creators. Perhaps in time, Google will start defending the folks that bring people to their platform instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. That will require diligence and perseverance though, so it’s important that people keep holding companies responsible for their actions.
What’s your take on copyright and Fair Use? Let me know in the comments below.
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