Issues of sharing copyrighted material from video games have always been a little tricky, since a significant part of the gaming community has been built up around Let's Plays, machinima, sharing personal gameplay experiences, and creating edited videos from video game cutscenes. A cursory search for your personal favorite video game moment on YouTube or other video sharing sites will generally allow you to watch it again without having to play through the game itself.
There have been a few high-profile cases of video game publishers clashing with gamers over issues of sharing video footage, most notably Sega's rather bizarre decision to start issuing DMCA takedown notices to YouTube users who had uploaded footage from the Sega Saturn RPG series Shining Force, or Nintendo's reaping of ad revenue from random YouTube videos that featured Nintendo game material.
Eclipsing game news coverage this week is Rockstar Games' criminal low life simulator Grand Theft Auto 5, which features three playable protagonists, a massive map to explore and many potential hours of gameplay, including a soundtrack full of licensed music. To help make things clear on the matter of what their fans can and can't upload, Rockstar has published an explanation of its policy on uploading copyrighted material:
"We’re happy for fans to upload footage of their gameplay - we love seeing machinima from our games and even share some of it with our fans on the Rockstar Newswire from time to time. We do have just a few guidelines that we ask you to follow if you are going to post or stream on video sharing sites. To make our position on this subject easier to understand, we have put together a list of content that, if posted, would result in a take-down notice:
- Pre-Release Footage: No pre-release leaked footage of any kind: Any posting of in-game footage from leaked copies of the game prior to its official release date will be taken down, regardless of how the game was obtained. This includes "early unboxing" videos.
- Spoilers: Posting video showing the ending of the game, pure cutscenes or any other big reveal in the story. It's ok to show cutscenes as part of a larger play-through (or in a narrated ‘Let’s Play’ type video) but isolated videos of the game's cinematics will be removed. If you are unsure if what you want to post is considered a spoiler, please contact email@example.com and describe exactly what scene you are wondering about and in what context the scene would appear.
- In-game Entertainment: Things like the TV shows and comedy performances in Grand Theft Auto IV, or the silent movies in Red Dead Redemption. We prefer fans to experience these in the context of the game's world, so any posting of these in isolation will be flagged for removal.
Lastly, we do reserve the right to remove content we find objectionable on a case by case basis & to change our policy from time to time but we do promise that if there is anything we do change we will make sure to let you know."
This open approach is not only likely to win Rockstar a few more friends amongst YouTube users who upload footage from GTA5 and other Rockstar games, it also has a better chance of convincing people to monitor their own uploading than either a blanket ban or total radio silence on the matter.
The guidelines are hardly unreasonable and accommodate the most popular reasons for uploading GTA footage (Let's Plays, machinima and showing off creative stunts or kills) while at the same time preventing people from just uploading basic cutscenes. Because of this, GTA fans who just want to share their gameplay with friends or the internet at large can do so, but no one can just get easy hits from uploading bare cutscenes.
Only time will tell how effective Rockstar is with their control of uploaded material or whether they start up a full campaign of takedown notices - it's still possible, for example, to watch Brucie Kibbutz smacking his head against a wall in this uploaded cutscene from GTA4. However, we can at least look forward to plenty of creative gameplay videos as YouTube users work their way through GTA5.
Do you think Rockstar's policy sounds reasonable? Either way, do you wish that more publishers were this open about their policies regarding copyrighted material?
Grand Theft Auto 5 is available now on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.