So there are lots of people who are angry with Google’s new policy of screening all affiliate Youtube channels for content violations. This is because a lot of “lets play” folk are suddenly being hit with reviews and take downs.
There are a lot of people we could potentially blame here. Google have come under a lot of (quite reasonable) flack for a number of gratuitous changes they have made to YouTube, but I don’t think they are fully to blame here.
Likewise, companies like Nintendo have come in for a lot of stick too, but since there are plenty of dodgy sites trying to make money off the back of their soundtrack content, you can understand their motive for hiring third parties to scour the net for unauthorised use their copyrighted content.
No, the real problem here is that copyright rules, rules that include the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA,) are increasingly unfit for purpose. The sad thing is that this has been known for a while, and the Lets Play crowd are just another victim in a long line of DMCA-related stupidity. From Warner Bros sending a DMCA takedown for the IMDB entry for their own film through to BMG trying to censor the Obama and Romney political campaigns, its clear that the current tools for fighting piracy just do not work very well.
So how should Youtube or US law change to correct this? Well, I honestly have no idea about the former. For the full context, it is worth remembering that 100 hours of content are uploaded to Youtube every minute. Consequently, It is probably inevitable that most of the donkey work will have to be done by automated processes. As far as YouTube goes, perhaps our best bet is to hope that Google’s computers can make themselves smart enough to distinguish when video game music is being used legitimately in context and when it’s simply being used to make pirates a bit of cash on the side.
The one thing we can get changed, however, is the law. The current situation cannot go on. Even if Lets Play videos currently inhabit a legal grey area, we can definitely say that the current copyright laws were not set up so companies could issue takedown notices if their game receives a bad review. I think we need to campaign to have the concept of fair use codified and extended on a global level. It simply doesn’t make sense for companies like Nintendo and Atlus to be seen going after people who are almost definitely among their biggest fans. In the long run, everyone loses out if things stay as they are.
On top of that, we also need to look at reforms that target patent trolls. It’s bad enough having video game companies accidentally coming after folks who simply want to play their newest releases, but there’s also the potential for professional patent trolls to buy up the rights to orphaned 8-bit games (think Speccy and C64) and come after anyone using those as well. The good news is that the gears are already in motion to do something about these, but it wouldn’t hurt to have us grease the wheels of politics a bit.
Yes, I’m sure a long drawn out political fight wasn’t quite the quick-fix solution to all of this you may have wanted, but sometimes the only way to resolve these things is to go straight to the source. Sorry folks.