Nintendo’s Copyright Kerfuffle – YouTube Let’s Play Videos Curtailed

Legally, Nintendo owns any reproduction of their characters’ likenesses. Copyright law is incredibly confusing, convoluted and different around the world. Fan art, self edited trailers, Let’s Play videos and everything in between all infringe on Nintendo’s copyrights in certain countries and to varying degrees.

Copyright law has large grey areas and differs in the US, UK and other countries where content might be created, distributed or hosted. In a connected world, with so much reliance on the world wide web, it’s incredibly difficult to keep track of copyright, let alone protect your property.

For large companies like Nintendo, entrenched in more traditional ways of thinking, this is proving a difficult situation to deal with. Their recent partnership with YouTube is making it easier for them claim ownership but the issue isn’t being handled particularly well. They’ve registered their content to the YouTube database so that it’s flagged when certain video or audio elements match what Nintendo has registered. This is called a Content ID Match.

When a YouTube video is subject to a Content ID Match, the owner of that match can monetize the video themselves – and the producer of the video cannot. This means that, for example, when we post a trailer for the latest game on our YouTube Channel it is Content ID Matched and any adverts that appear do not pay out to us but to the company who owns the trailer.


The same applies to music used in a video. For example, last year’s Eurogamer Expo TSA Dance video (below) features a Nicki Minaj track and is Content ID Matched by her record company, Universal Music Group. Any adverts that appear belong to UMG (and there’s a little “buy this track” ad permanently embedded on the video’s page). They can also choose to limit the availability of the video so that it doesn’t play on specific devices (like mobile) or in specific countries.

That’s fine, for music videos or even videos that contain predominant elements that are the creative work of someone who is represented by a company. But it is a system that’s open to abuse and error.

I’ve had game trailers flagged as copyright infringements and removed by companies after their PR teams have sent me them and specifically asked that we host them on our own YouTube channel. Many of the videos on our YouTube Channel are Content ID Matched – which is generally fine, we only monetize our videos in extremely rare situations and never make any significant income from them – but I’ve had other websites attempting to claim copyright to videos we’ve created because they have similar videos in their channels. That blocks our ability to monetize until the dispute is settled, by which time the views on that video have peaked and tailed off, making monetization pointless.

For the hundreds of prominent Let’s Play YouTubers, this move poses a more significant problem. Many of them do monetize their videos. Many make a modest income from the hours they spend demonstrating and commentating on games to YouTube viewers. Content ID Matching removes that income, in the first instance, but deeper copyright claims and repeated occurrence can lead to a copyright “strike” against a channel. Three “strikes” and the channel is deleted, removing all of its videos. Obviously, this is a measure to stop people uploading movies and music videos to the service and making money from them. But a videogame Let’s Play is a very different thing.

Yes, these lengthy video series tend to show most or all of a game. But a videogame is not a linear, singular experience. What you see as you play through a videogame is different to what I will see. Often in quite small ways but always different. The commentary on a Let’s Play video also adds a dimension to it that, I believe, makes it created entertainment rather than simple demonstration.

Aside from the limitations this newfound heavy handedness puts on the Let’s Play community, I don’t think it’s very good for Nintendo, either.

YouTube is often the first port of call for someone who wants to know what a videogame looks like – and what it plays like. Official trailers only show so much and one of the thousands of gameplay videos is much more likely to demonstrate a real-world scenario to a potential player. But if the Let’s Play community feels the need to turn away from Nintendo’s games, for fear of recrimination (as some already have) then Nintendo loses all those potential customers who would have had eyes on their product. That’s not to be underestimated, the biggest Let’s Play channels can have hundreds of thousands of subscribers each.

The Let’s Play phenomenon has undoubtedly contributed greatly to the success of many games, from Minecraft to Thomas Was Alone. Restricting what those valuable sources of coverage can show is not only restrictive for them, it’s harmful for large companies like Nintendo. They risk leaving this valuable source of exposure to the smaller indie developers and more savvy publishers that are already well aware of the potential power of a successful Let’s Play and the knock on effect that has on media awareness.



  1. Ha, never seen that video :) Awesome work Lipscombes!

  2. the whole copyright thing on sites like youtube needs an overhaul.

    you see blatant pirates posting whole series, but then you get stuff like the abridged series creators getting their channels shut down, even though what they do is perfectly legal under copyright law.
    look how often Littlekuriboh has had his account banned, and he keeps coming back because what he does is perfectly legal.

    there was even that situation with viacom, i think it was, getting the Last Of Us trailer pulled from Naughty Dog’s channel, because they featured the trailer on the vgas or something and so they thought they owned it.

    there need to be just as heavy restrictions placed on those who make unjustified copyright claims as there are for those who get accused of them.
    especially when many of these claims are sent out by automated, unmonitored bots.

    it’d make them check before they go after somebody who may be well within the law.

    these companies need to realise what a huge free marketing machine these kinds of videos can be, rather than seeing them as a threat.

    i don’t think Minecraft would be anywhere near as big as it is, if not for the huge amount of free publicity it got, and still gets, from all the channels that feature the game.
    thankfully Mojang realise that and are pretty easy going with regards these let’s plays.

    i think the only thing they do get upset over is if people claim they have an official connection to Mojang when they don’t.

  3. They have to make some money with the current state of the Wii U being what it is. :P
    At least they are not just blocking the videos entirely like Sega did. It’s their right but I do feel for the Let’s Players. I enjoy watching Let’s Plays myself.

  4. I hate UMG. I’ve heard some stories where they actually claimed original content by other people as their own and tend to get the video muted if one thing is used instead of actually requesting for it to be removed or asking if the uploader wouldn’t mind having a link to that song. I can understand claiming their content but to fecking claim original pieces of music and video is taking the piss. Let’s plays serve to entertain mostly and do no harm to the product. It may even serve as free advertising for that game. As for game trailers being flagged despite the fact that you were told to upload it, that is just taking the piss. Surely the publisher wouldn’t claim it if they sent you it.

  5. A very interesting read indeed and full of info I never really thought about let alone actually knew.
    Copyright is obviously in place to protect a companies or individuals content, but with big companies (and even smaller ones to a degree) surely the extra coverage is worth more than a few pennies through copyright etc. The recent Just Cause 2 article in which it is highlighted the dev did not receive a penny (as of yet) but the etc publicity is worth so much more is a good example.
    This also raises more concerns for the PS4 and the “share” button. If a game, a character, a level or theme music is shown via YouTube, rather than flag copyright infringements why not appreciate the potential sales that “free” coverage can get you? Companies and developers need to replace greed with pride, very few developers now show pride through their work and instead focus on “quick cash”. God bless indie games.

    • Definitely agree on the latter. There’s moments when the exposure of said game, by the fan-base, is doing the company far more good than converting a few banner clicks here and there.

  6. Quite surprised at this, mostly because it’s the complete opposite of what Sony are doing with the PS4’s share functionality. I would have expected Nintendo and MS to do something similar. Wonder which way MS will go.

    • Well, this is about ad revenue. I’m sure Sony has a deal with ustream where at least part of the ad revenue of shared PS4 content will go directly to Sony so who knows.

  7. Nintendo haven’t really thought it through, have they? ‘Professional’ youtubers just aren’t going to play Nintendo games if they aren’t going to get any money, which will in turn reduce the number of people that buy the game. Just look at Minecraft, Mojan didn’t spend a single pound advertising and just look at how popular it is, mainly thanks to youtubers like the Yogscast, Etho, etc

  8. one of the best assets a console company can have is a passionate fanbase.

    but mistreat them, and they can become that company’s worst enemy.

  9. I must be old, sitting watching a video of someone play a game sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry.

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