Youtube policy changes 2014 – the good, the bad and the ugly

We posted news yesterday having received an email from our YouTube network partner, stating changes are coming to Youtube starting in early 2014.  A number of network partners have sent notifications to their members highlighting the changes and how to work alongside them.

At a glance it appears that the prevalent issue of copyright infringement has come to a head, and a tougher stance is being taken on those earning money from others works. Youtube started as a service for people to upload clips of themselves and share them but has since grown into a massive uncontrollable media outlet shrouded in many shades of  grey in terms of what constitutes original content under fair usage, and what isn’t.


The Copyright Owners:

Looking at the situation from the perspective of the copyright owners, and it’s clear to see that under most terms and conditions it’s prohibited for third parties to receive financial gain from their works and even stretches to elements such as pay to play. Somehow, Youtube, has become a free license for people to make money in ignorance of its own policy which clearly states in its terms and conditions for monetization that all elements of the video are owned by the uploader, or suitable permissions have been granted by the copyright owner. This only applies to those who opt to monetize their videos, but in many cases, suitable permissions are likely to have not been granted and a wavering of misunderstood fair usages rights are often cited but remain inappropriate.

Although there’s very little publication of what is and isn’t permitted without diving through reams of text in terms and conditions, what the general consensus seems to be is that it’s welcomed for creators (in relation to video games) to post  videos of their gameplay exploits, but not to make money from them especially as the copyright owner has no control over those earnings, and no stake in them either. Copyright owners do not have the resources to monitor and police Youtube , and so it’s the responsibility of Youtube to adhere to their terms, but as of now, there has been too much responsibility placed on the end user and its third party networks.

The Youtubers:

In many cases, simply uploading a trailer, or official gameplay footage, requires little to no effort,  even recording gameplay as one plays with an unscripted voice-over takes some time, but isn’t particularly difficult – hence why there are so many of them. Whereas producing  a quality show such as Angry Joe’s videos as one example, takes time, money and enthusiasm to maintain entertaining original content. However, no matter how big or small the production is, there’s still the issue of permission being granted to use gameplay footage in the video.

It’s no secret that a number of people have become Youtube superstars, earning lots of coin for their efforts and garnering millions of fans between them. But unlike massive Youtube hits such as the recent Gangnam Style video or comedians such as Tom Ska where all of the content is owned by the uploader, in many gaming related videos this is not the case.

There’s a strong argument that lets plays, walkthroughs  and various other videos which feature gameplay are an invaluable resource for millions of viewers, and that it’s often seen as  good independent promotion for products. However, it’s perhaps ignorant to believe that all videos paint a positive spin on the product they are using, which in turn emphasizes the huge grey area surrounding the issue.

In many cases, there’s time and effort placed in producing videos, and as an incentive, being paid is part of the appeal. For a number of content creators , being paid helps fund future projects, or enables creators to get better at what they are doing and so the option itself has fueled Youtube’s own growth and popularity as an open platform for individuals to create content.


The Good:

What is perhaps a positive from Youtube’s new policy is that creators will have to up their game a bit more in terms of the type of quality original content they produce which ultimately benefits the viewer. Whilst fair usage rights are very much misunderstood in terms of using copyrighted materials to make money, it’s likely that a more definitive set of guidelines will be made available from either the copyright owners, community or Youtube itself to address this.

The Bad:

For the smaller gaming channels and those starting afresh, Youtube will still be a viable platform for exposure, but there will be no or little financial reward  unless you’ve been granted permission from the copyright owner, which is highly unlikely if creators are posting lets plays or gameplay clips. For some, having no monetary perk will choke content and undoubtedly will mean less videos being uploaded, which could result in  more focused exposure for products and increased ad revenue for those who are more able to create unique content.

The Ugly:

Ultimately for some content creators, the lure of being able to bypass the current system’s checking procedure when joining a network will be diminished. For those already partnered, they will be locked in contracts which really offer no other benefits but will be paying them up to 50 per cent of their earnings regardless until they are either able to break contract or it expires.

What has also been established is that networks will be able to select channels to be affiliate or managed, with those who are trusted to produce original content that does not infringe copyrights being managed and avoiding the checks, and those who do not, or who fall into a grey area becoming affiliated.  Managed channels will be the responsibility of the network. This naturally means the bigger channels  are likely to continue to thrive as businesses and the smaller channels become more hobbyist.

It also suggests that both Microsoft and Sony will undoubtedly exercise some control over videos being uploaded to Youtube through their next gen devices such as Xbox One and PS4, where videos have monetization automatically disabled, or all ad revenue goes back to them. A stance which suggests there is no financial recognition for recording gameplay videos.


A Way Forward?

Youtube’s changes simply reinforce the idea that copyright owners are not prepared for others to make money from their works which is a fair stance to take, however what this does highlight is an inherent flaw in how Youtube’s content creators have been operating within the jurisdiction of copyright laws.

The best outcome that adheres to all parties concerned would be a system where copyright owners automatically receive proceeds or royalties as a percentage  from the advertising revenue users gain.  Nintendo already has exercised taking over ad revenue from Youtube videos featuring their content which can be seen as quite harsh, but shows the components are there to make it feasible. Musicians receive royalties for public performances of their works handled via the Performance Right Society (PRS) in the UK.  So a more open platform can work where both parties are catered to. The all or nothing approach is perhaps self destructive, and will inhibit some forms of content and creativity, but won’t hinder those who simply want to post videos and become popular from doing so. Youtube could amalgamate its gaming channels under one roof to facilitate the idea and would mean independent networks would have to offer more benefits and incentives to creators for joining them.

Alternatively, copyright owners could be more transparent with what is deemed original content, and offer open avenues for content creators to seek permissions pertaining to specific projects. This way, they could exercise some form of control over the type of content being published – in light of spoiler or leaked videos for example.



The Reality:

Whilst it’s not clear how far reaching Youtube’s new policy will be when it rolls out early next year, the reality for many will be they will not be able to continue to post gameplay videos, trailers  and monetize them without proof of permission from the copyright owner. The system is said to be random, but possibly based on a trust rating. Whilst not gospel, it is suggested that creators will still be able to upload and monetize their videos, but if a video is flagged and proof of permission is provided, then it will become easier for that user to keep posting videos without them being flagged. Creators who simply post videos without monetizing them will not be affected per the terms of the individual copyright owners.

The good news is some developers are being quite clear and instrumental when it comes to uploading videos to Youtube and monetizing them, with some even providing a consent  document for creators to present to Youtube if asked for permission. If more indie studios and any of the bigger players adopt this stance it could lead to greater exposure for independent projects and those publishers looking to encourage the gaming community.





Written by: Rob Cram

Rob Cram has hundreds of video game reviews, thousands of articles under his belt with years of experience in gaming and tech. He aims to remain fair and free from publisher/developer influence. With his extensive knowledge, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement with his views are entirely optional. He might have a bias towards cyberpunk.