In recent years, the popularity of online video game streaming has soared. YouTube in particular has seen the development of a booming cottage industry as gamers garner millions of views for their digital conquests. The advent of video games as a spectator sport has made streaming a viable career path for some, with YouTube's heavier hitters collecting significant paydays from the platform's monetization model.
As gamers gain profit from their streaming channels, a question of ownership does arise. Are these streamers that are broadcasting someone else's creation in violation of copyright law?
The role of YouTube's policies and interests
For their part, YouTube enforces a pretty strict copyright policy. Music, television and film content that is uploaded to the site without permission will typically be taken down quickly. For video game streaming, however, YouTube seems to take a more relaxed approach.
The fact is video game streaming brings a lot of traffic to YouTube. With this in mind, some copyright holders view streaming as free promotion, making their relationship with YouTube a mutually beneficial one.
Game developers seek control of their content and image
Game developers have an obvious interest in how streamers use their work. Even if they're consenting to have their content broadcast as a promotional tool, streamers are third parties that remain outside of their control, creating a blurry transactional line.
In October of 2017, popular YouTube streamer PewDiePie found himself embroiled in controversy after using a racial slur while streaming his play of the game "PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds." A different developer, Campo Santo, filed a copyright strike against PewDiePie's channel, seeking to disassociate from the streamer, who had broadcast their content in the past.
Where does streaming fall legally?
For streamers and YouTube alike, the argument is that copyrighted material. The difference between, say, uploading someone else's copyrighted song and streaming a game is that the latter will include commentary, making it a unique creation.
It's worth noting, however, that this argument has yet to be tested in court. In truth, video game streaming and copyright law is an unexplored frontier legally, and while YouTube has pulled video game content before at the request of its creators, they've been subjective in doing so. With no current legal precedent in place for streaming, it will be interesting to monitor this relationship going forward, as well as the potential effects it could have on both industries.