What do you do if you’re a multi-million dollar game publisher who released a critically acclaimed video game that is being hailed a breath of fresh air in a long-running franchise? You make a PR gaffe, obviously.
That is the case of the latest action out of Activision, who is currently issuing egregiously overreaching copyright strikes on YouTubers who are posting videos with content from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. As is common with many AAA publishers, they informally allow for the use of gameplay videos and Twitch streams of their content, so long as it is not monetized.
Recently, though, there have been a rush of complaints and outrage from many people in the YouTube community who are reporting that they’ve had copyright claims filed on them by Activision. Machinima, one of the largest partnerships on YouTube helping YouTubers who post game-related content become more notable, have confirmed that these reports are true in a message sent out to their various partners.
Ever the friendly face, Activision was all polite and smiles as they issued a statement to Kotaku in response to these incidents:
“We’re excited that so many fans are having fun playing the game and posting videos of their gameplay. We love watching the videos ourselves. Occasionally, some folks post videos that promote cheating and unfair exploits. As always, we keep an eye out for these videos—our level of video claims hasn’t changed. We are appreciative of the community’s support in helping to ensure that everyone has the best playing experience possible.”
So in a sense, they’re saying that all they are doing is enforcing an anti-cheating policy. Show an exploit or glitch in your Advanced Warfare video? Well, they don’t want you to do that, because if that spreads virally – as seen with Destiny‘s loot cave debacle – it’ll ruin the gaming experience for all of the other gamers who aren’t cheating or are having a fun time. Fair and reasonable, right?
Wrong. Let’s talk about what a copyright strike is. In simple terms, they’re bad. It is using provisions of the DMCA to essentially take down videos which, hypothetically, any random individual may not like. It is a statement which says to the person who is given the strike: you have used this content illegally; it will be removed from consumption entirely.
It should be noted that DMCA takedowns differ from a copyright claims, anther hot-button issue for Twitch streamers and let’s players. A typical automated copyright claim is done via the Content-ID system, as see on both YouTube and through the newly implemented policies on Twitch. These claims are not severe at all. They essentially automatically pick out content believed to be used without permission (That Skrillex song during your Battlefield montage? Yeah, you’re not allowed to use that.), and redirects any monetization that would be earned from that video to the original rights holders. If I do the same on my Twitch stream, I’ll have my stream’s VOD muted to block the musical content. It’s annoying, but I think we can all agree that it’s fair.
For DMCA claims, the issuer is essentially stating that you have no right to use the content that you used and that is to be removed permanently unless challenged in a court of law. That’s all well and good if you actually stole content, like uploading a pirated copy of the new Hunger Games movie. However, the laws of Fair Use allow for commentary and critical review, which is essentially what pointing out flaws in a game such as Advanced Warfare could be construed as.
Herein lies the problem: Activision is doing this not because the content is illegal – these videos are not illegal. Activion is removing Advanced Warfare content because they don’t like it.
Moreover, the proof is on the accused to prove their innocence, rather than on the accuser to prove the other’s guilt. This backwards logic forces YouTubers – often independent people on their couch like the rest of us, who happen to enjoy entertaining people online, or those affiliated with networks to help grow their audience – into a horrifically confusing situation of navigating complicated legalese in the hopes of not having a formal lawsuit filed against them.
As if that weren’t bad enough, strikes against YouTubers are bad news. YouTube operates by the standard “three strikes and you’re out” policy, meaning if you get stricken down three times, you never upload videos ever again. You could be one of the most successful YouTube channels on the site, but if you receive three strikes, no matter how many years you slaved away growing an audience and making a name for yourself, you can be extinguished from the internet at the snap of a finger.
Using DMCA claims as a weapon to silence unwanted criticism or footage is not unheard of, such as with Jim Sterling’s video of The Slaughtering Grounds, which was also stricken down by the developers. Rarely, though, have these claims been used by large publishers, or for a game as renowned as Advanced Warfare. The round of SEGA copyright claims that went out two years ago were as overreaching as this current one by Activision.
This type of behavior by anyone is corporate censorship, simple as that. The concept of “if they don’t want it seen, they can have it removed” is despicable, a huge freedom of speech issue, and in many cases, flat-out illegal. It is not okay to take down videos just because they show a glitch in your game; the onus is on the developer to make sure there are no exploits in their game, not censor the smart gamers who happened to find out about them.
Unsurprisingly, gamers aren’t too happy about Activision’s overreach. Hopefully Activision will second-guess this decision. Perhaps instead of punishing YouTubers for exploring Advanced Warfare, they simply fix the buggy exploits and laggy multiplayer which does not offer dedicated servers and overflows with frequent hacking.