Nintendo Exchanges Goodwill For Control; Issues Mass Monetization Claims On Let's Play Videos

from the not-completely-about-the-Benjamins dept

Nintendo's history of aggressive IP enforcement is long and colorful and, occasionally, completely ridiculous. No one protects the brand quite as fiercely as Nintendo does, an unfortunate byproduct of its obsession with maintaining a clean, family-friendly image.

Its latest misadventure into "controlling all things Nintendo" was brought to our attention via a post to Reddit's r/games by a prolific creator of Let's Play videos, Zack Scott. For whatever reason, Nintendo is performing a "mass claiming" of Let's Play videos featuring its titles. Scott notes in his post that Machinima has seen these claims increasing exponentially recently, pointing towards this being an active move on Nintendo's part.

The speculation is now over. Nintendo has released a statement to Gamefront, which reads as follows.
As part of our on-going push to ensure Nintendo content is shared across social media channels in an appropriate and safe way, we became a YouTube partner and as such in February 2013 we registered our copyright content in the YouTube database. For most fan videos this will not result in any changes, however, for those videos featuring Nintendo-owned content, such as images or audio of a certain length, adverts will now appear at the beginning, next to or at the end of the clips. We continually want our fans to enjoy sharing Nintendo content on YouTube, and that is why, unlike other entertainment companies, we have chosen not to block people using our intellectual property.

For more information please visit
A few observations on this statement:

1. In terms of the internet, the present will always be relegated to some distant point in the future for Nintendo. The fact that it took until three months ago for Nintendo to join forces with the world's largest video site is astounding. This is probably has something to do with Nintendo's recent shuttering of several Wii channels, many of which were underwhelming and ignored by a majority of its customers. (The "flagship" of the lineup -- the Nintendo channel -- was one of the worst, featuring haphazardly posted content that seemed to mistake throwing darts at a lineup for curation.)

2. Nintendo's self-consciously squeaky clean image? This IP grab is about that, too. Why else would a company that only recently decided YouTube might be a viable outlet use the phrase "shared... in appropriate and safe ways" to justify slapping ads on tons of pre-existing content uploaded by its customers and fans?

3. "...unlike other entertainment companies, we have chosen not to block people using our intellectual property." Good Guy Nintendo says No Blocking! While other "entertainment companies" have blocked thousands of videos, most video game companies don't. With the exception of Sega's promotional push for its new Shining Force title that took the form of widespread takedowns, most gaming companies take a more hands-off approach, realizing that Let's Play videos are a form of advertising that costs them nothing.

4. Nintendo passes the buck on its particular copyright "strategies" by directing readers to YouTube boilerplate. Weak.

Nintendo is well within their rights to monetize these videos and images. But, as anyone who's had experience with situations like this can tell you, being "within your rights" isn't the same thing as "right," either in the moral sense or in the "opposite of wrong" sense.

Nintendo can (and does) monetize gameplay videos using its IP. There are some valid arguments for fair use that can be applied here (Techdirt contributor E. Zachary Knight runs down a few over at Gamasutra), but when it comes to uploaders v. content companies, the algorithm tends to side with the YouTube partner and the registered content. Once Nintendo makes this monetization claim, there's very little the uploaders can do to fight it.

On the plus side, Nintendo isn't actually taking down videos. This means uploaders may lose the income (many uploaders have never attempted to monetize their uploads), but their accounts will remain strike-free. (Unfortunately, having several videos from the same account claimed by ContentID tends not to reflect well on the account holder and will probably be taken into consideration should other infringement issues arise.)

The money gained from applying pre-roll/post-roll ads to Let's Play videos is likely insignificant in terms of Nintendo's annual income. (It's certainly not going to make up for the WiiU's rather inauspicious debut.) Nintendo's past IP battles make this more about control than income. This also builds Nintendo a useful database of "offending" titles that it can easily block or take down by doing nothing more than changing its ContentID options.

Is the additional control worth it? If nothing else, it will be easier for Nintendo to control its online "representation" as its actions have decreased its customer base. Zack Scott, whose account contains dozens of Nintendo Let's Play videos, has already announced he will no longer be supporting the company.
I think filing claims against LPers is backwards. Video games aren’t like movies or TV. Each play-through is a unique audiovisual experience. When I see a film that someone else is also watching, I don’t need to see it again. When I see a game that someone else is playing, I want to play that game for myself! Sure, there may be some people who watch games rather than play them, but are those people even gamers?

My viewers watch my gameplay videos for three main reasons:

1. To hear my commentary/review.
2. To learn about the game and how to play certain parts.
3. To see how I handle and react to certain parts of the game.
Since I started my gaming channel, I’ve played a lot of games. I love Nintendo, so I’ve included their games in my line-up. But until their claims are straightened out, I won’t be playing their games. I won’t because it jeopardizes my channel’s copyright standing and the livelihood of all LPers.
There are many better ways Nintendo could have handled this (a monetization split with uploaders, an invitation to upload to Nintendo's official channel, DOING NOTHING...), but the company's antagonistic attitude towards anything it doesn't directly profit from made this situation one of the better outcomes, unfortunately.

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  1. identicon
    CK20XX, 17 May 2013 @ 4:27pm

    Re: Re: I don't think Nintendo is wrong, but...

    They usually don't care about what you do with their IPs, really. Just don't make porn of their characters and you're good.

    You're also forgetting that one of the reasons Nintendo was so strong-armed at first was because the NES launched after the Great Video Game Crash of 1983. Atari had just finished ruining everything for everyone with years of mismanagement and market saturation, so Nintendo did what they had to do in order to revive the industry and subsequently keep it from committing suicide. And it worked.

    That's the main reason they get a free pass, I suppose. They single-handedly saved the game industry way back when. That's not something EA, Apple, and Microsoft can boast.

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