Last week, there had been some rumors
that YouTube was changing its policies around so-called "let's play" videos, with some arguing that "Google was implementing SOPA" when it came to let's play videos -- and that all videos would have to be previewed first to make sure there was no use of copyright-covered content. That seemed like a clear exaggeration, but over the past few days there have been numerous reports from a variety of different sources about how many of the biggest video game channels on YouTube were suddenly getting inundated with copyright claims
, many of which people felt were bogus.
So what's happened? Well, it's not that YouTube "implemented SOPA." Rather it appears to be a combination of pushing out its ContentID "scanning" program to channels that are listed as affiliates to so-called "MCNs" (Multi-channel Networks). MCNs are effectively "collections" of independent YouTube channels, banding together for certain advantages, such as cross-promotion and ad sales across all videos. While most people are familiar with ContentID, as far as I can tell (and despite repeated attempts to speak to multiple people, no one seems interested in explaining the details), it appears that ContentID generally works on newly uploaded videos, whereas going back and scanning existing videos is more targeted. And, it's that back scanning that has been "enabled" here. In other words, if those videos had been uploaded very recently, they might have been hit with the same ContentID claim, but these were "back catalog" videos in many cases, which sort of grandfathered them in. That explains the sudden influx. Going back over all those old videos has turned up a bunch of matches.
Then there's a separate issue: which is that many people claim that the claims are completely bogus. Even though they're on let's play videos, they're not
coming from the video game companies, but other third parties. In fact, the big video game companies, like Ubisoft, Capcom and Blizzard say they have no problem with let's play videos and are actually trying to help those impacted
in figuring out what to do.
This move is almost certainly a result of the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) suing Fullscreen
, a big MCN, claiming copyright infringement. There are some generally interesting legal questions about whether or not an MCN is actually liable for any infringement by an independent YouTube producer, but some of these MCNs have grown to be quite large, and the publishers want money. YouTube is likely trying to clean up the videos associated with MCNs in one big move to avoid any future issues.
What that means, however, is that it's likely one of the reasons that people aren't recognizing the names making the copyright claims is that the matches aren't on the game play
, but rather the music either in the video games themselves (likely in many cases) or that video makers add to their videos in general. To their credit, it appears that many of the gaming companies are actually helping video creators clear that music
The whole thing is a bit of a mess, but not as crazy as it first appeared. And it's certainly not a case of "SOPAfying" YouTube videos. It's just extending the ContentID scanning to those channels to try to clean out problems and, hopefully, avoid future lawsuits against those MCNs.
That said, YouTube's communications over this have been dismal
and have greatly contributed to the problem. The company has put out the identical statement to everyone who's asked
We recently enabled Content ID scanning on channels identified as affiliates of MCNs. This has resulted in new copyright claims for some users, based on policies set by the relevant content owners. As ever, channel owners can easily dispute Content ID claims if they believe those claims are invalid.
That's... somewhat useless. It doesn't address the reasons or the concerns of the video makers, and has many scared. That is not
the best way to explain the situation, and only lends credence to the exaggerated claims that YouTube is helping to kill off let's play videos, when that's not the case at all. It also presupposes an extraordinary level of knowledge that most people don't have of Content ID, copyright, MCNs, licensing, publishing and more. It's basically the opposite of providing the information that video makers actually need -- leaving them freaked out about a massive influx in copyright claims they don't understand. Without a better, more honest and clear explanation, most users are blaming the most obvious party: YouTube.
It appears that YouTube briefed some MCNs on the basics of this change, which is why those rumors came out last week, as the MCNs tried to explain the issue to the affiliates -- but generally did so badly, because this stuff is complicated enough as is, and then you add a game of legal telephone where the people passing on the details don't really understand the issues either. YouTube could have done a much, much, much better job laying out the details of what it was doing and why (and even how that actually should help
MCNs by avoiding lawsuits like the NMPA's. But instead, it's got a ton of people freaked out and its communications to those people are almost non-existent other than the cryptic statement which, while accurate, fails to portray the full situation.