I have a hypothetical situation for you: Let’s say you’re promoting a play or a concert or something. So you pay some money to have a graphic designer come up with a really clever, eye-grabbing advertisement for it. You print out a stack of leaflets. Your goal is to get these leaflets into the hands of as many people as possible. You want maximum saturation. You want everyone in town to see one of these things.
So you hire a guy to hand out the leaflets in the street. But instead of handing them out, he claims copyright on them and tries to sell them. He manages to get a few buyers, although obviously fewer people see the ad than if he just gave them away like you told him to. When it’s all over he proudly hands over the $1.25 he got selling a handful of flyers. The rest are still in his hand, unsold, un-viewed, unused. The concert tickets you’re selling go for $60 each, so this dollar and change isn’t really a lot of income for your operation.
Would you feel cheated by this guy? I would.
YouTube Copyright Claims
So last week I covered E3. I’m sure you’ve noticed. I streamed four events and uploaded them to YouTube: Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Bethesda, and Ubisoft. Obviously these events featured a lot of trailers, and therefore those trailers wound up as part of my YouTube video. And predictably, Various Parties claimed copyright infringement as a result.
The EA show had no claims. The Microsoft show got 4 claims. Bethesda got zero. Ubisoft got two.
Namco Bandai and Capcom were responsible for three of the claims in the Microsoft show, but the fourth claim came from some outfit called “[Merlin] AWAL Digital Limited”. This claim mysteriously vanished later. Has YouTube FINALLY implemented a system to deal with the trolls who file mass bogus claims, or is this just yet another bug in their increasingly out-of-control system? You decide.
On the Ubisoft event I got another vanishing claim from Rooster Teeth. The other claim on the Ubi show was for music. One of the trailers had 32 seconds of a licensed song at half volume with Ross and I talking over it. This easily qualifies as fair use, but I don’t have millions of dollars to take the jackasses at “UMG On behalf of: EMI” to court and assert my rights. Fine. Have it, you big babies.
For the record, none of these claims hurt me. Now that I have a Patreon, I don’t put ads on my YouTube videosIf you see an ad on one of my videos, it means someone hit me with a claim and they’re getting the money.. Even better, when one video gets multiple claims like this, there’s no good way to determine how the money should be divided up among the claimants. So YouTube just disables ads and nobody gets any money. Which means all of this furious automated legal activity came to nothing and the videos are running ad-free, which is all I wanted in the first place.
Anyway. I’m not here to complain about the malfunctioning Orwellian corporate machine that Google has built. And I’m not here to rage against all the copyright trolls that upload other people’s trailers, claim copyright, and then skim ad revenue from peasants like me who can’t fight back. Instead I’m here to complain about the legitimate claims. As strange as it might sound, I think the valid claims are the most destructive of them all.
Charging People To Show Advertisements
Going back to the concert-promotion analogy I started with: In my analogy, one person was trying to promote a concert and the other was trying to make money selling handbills. This is a pretty ridiculous situation, but it’s even more ridiculous in real life because they’re the same person.
Namco Bandai probably spent a lot of money making that trailerWhich trailer? I’m too lazy to look it up. More importantly, I don’t care.. It costs a lot of money to push a trailer out there and get people to watch it. I know television isn’t the culture-dominating force it used to be, but television time still ain’t cheap. You’ve paid to have the ads made, and now your #1 goal is to get as many people watching it as possible.
Which means having someone else upload your advertisement ought to represent a huge net gain for you. They are saturating YouTube. They’re getting that trailer out to their subscribers. And it doesn’t cost you a dime! Why would you want to interfere with this glorious windfall?
Sure, a lot of these people have small subscriber bases. But if 10,000 channels each share the video and each of those puny channels has just 500 subscribers, that’s 5 million people. For comparison, the official Namco Bandai channel has less than half a million subscribers. And that’s ignoring that fact that a small number of people sharing the trailer will have very large subscriber bases. You might even get lucky and have some 10 million subscriber superstar cover your trailer! Think about how much that kind of coverage would cost on traditional media!
This is how the internet works. It’s about distributed systems. One video going viral on Facebook can get far more views than a Superbowl ad. You want people out there sharing that trailer, because the combined reach of all fans is greater than even the mightiest advertising agency. You want your fans out there dissecting the trailer, doing reaction videos, doing previews, and integrating it into the news shows. You want your game to be the hot topic. You want everyone talking about it, excited for it, and lining up to preorder the dang thing.
So why would you try to prevent this from happening by punishing people who share the trailer on their own channels?
When you hit a video with a copyright claim, three things happen:
- A DIFFERENT ad will play before the trailer. So if someone DOES decide they want to watch the trailer for the new Shoot Guy reboot, they have to sit through an ad for GEICO first. And a lot of people, when they realize that to see this trailer they need to watch a GEICO ad for the 100th time, will hit the back button.
- You’re punishing people who share your advertisements, which makes them less eager to do it.
- You make nine cents per one thousand views.
Okay, I don’t know if you actually make nine cents, but I know it’s a really small amount of money. The point is, whatever you make per view by skimming ad revenue from rando small-time creators is going to be a good bit less than how much it costs you to pay Google for views.
How badly do you want that nine cents? Because to get it you’re going to lose out on many potential views. (Due to people hitting the back button.) Worse, you’re adding friction to the sharing process. Nintendo has been so relentlessly brutal about this that a lot of people have stopped covering Nintendo stuff. As a result, I see a lot less Nintendo content in my feed these daysI’m sure they’re fine because they’re NINTENDO. Namco Bandai? Capcom? I don’t think they can afford to burn away good will like this.. You’re effectively creating anti-advertising. There’s no way to know how many views you lose because of this, but you can prove it’s more than those nine cents can buy you. Since Google takes a cut for themselves, the money you make per view on advertising will always be less than how much you have to PAY for a view when YOUR video is the advertisement. Don’t get so excited selling handbills for nickel that you forget your REAL goal is to move those $60 concert tickets.
Like I said. None of this hurt me. I’m just pointing at this giant mess of dysfunction and explaining why issuing copyright claims on trailers is an act that harms even the claimant. (And sometimes, only the claimant.)
 If you see an ad on one of my videos, it means someone hit me with a claim and they’re getting the money.
 Which trailer? I’m too lazy to look it up. More importantly, I don’t care.
 I’m sure they’re fine because they’re NINTENDO. Namco Bandai? Capcom? I don’t think they can afford to burn away good will like this.
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