In the wake of YouTuber PewDiePie dropping the n-word on a recent livestream for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Firewatch Developer Sean Vanaman announced that his team Campo Santo games was filing a DMCA-style copyright strike of PewDiePie’s video of the game as well as videos of future games developed by the team.
Vanaman added that he is “sick of this child getting more and more chances to make money off of what we make,” and that PewDiePie is “worse than a closeted racist: he’s a propagator of despicable garbage that does real damage to the culture around this industry.” He also urged other developers to do the same and he will “be reaching out to folks much larger than us to cut him off from the content that has made him a millionaire.” He acknowledged that the 5.7 million views for PewDiePie’s Firewatch playthrough may have lead to increased sales of the game, and reassured his love of streamers saying he gave away 3,000 copies of the game to both professional and amateur streamers.
A DMCA-style copyright strike is when a company strikes a YouTube video because they feel it infringes on their copyright. The video gets taken down and the YouTuber’s ability to monetize videos may be affected. If a YouTuber receives three strikes, their channel is shut down completely. A YouTuber with a claim can dispute it. Then either the claim is taken to court or the people who issued the strike exhaust the 14 day limit on refuting counter claims and the video is put back up.
PewDiePie’s Firewatch playthrough has been made private by PewDiePie himself out of respect for Vanaman’s request. But after he received the takedown, he deleted the video entirely. However, you can see the same video reuploaded by another YouTuber below:
After apologizing for the racial slur earlier this week, PewDiePie responded to the DMCA takedown in a recent update video. He said that he will not pursue the issue further in court even though his case would be strong because he didn’t want to waste anyone’s time and money and he recognizes that it was his fault for saying the racial slur. However, he did point out that the copyright strike was largely spurious.
Pewdiepie, aka Felix Kjellberg, said that the copyright strike was an attack on him and his livelihood. He said that Let’s Plays, the main wheelhouse of his channel in which he commentates on footage of him playing a game, is a gray area legally. YouTubers like PewDiePie don’t own the game, but Let’s Plays could fall under Fair Use as there’s often editing, voice work and other things involved to make the video their own. PewDiePie added that he was most certain that his video was protected under fair use and that legal experts could agree. He cited an article on Tech Dirt by Mike Masnick saying that the video would be protected by fair use.
“The fact that Vanaman directly and publicly admits that he’s not taking the video down for any valid copyright reason, but rather because he thinks PewDiePie is “a propagator of despicable garbage” doesn’t help Vanaman’s case at all,” Masnick said. “Rather, it gives PewDiePie a lot more leverage to claim that any such takedown would be abusive, and possibly even a violation of the DMCA’s 512(f) against misrepresentations.”
PewDiePie also linked to a podcast on Head Gum as a counterpoint to the argument that Let’s Plays are protected by Fair Use.
PewDiePie pointed out that the website for Firewatch gives people their blessing to livestream the game.
Yes. We love that people stream and share their experiences in the game. You are free to monetize your videos as well.
It doesn’t hurt to let us know on Twitter when you’re live. We might show up in your chat!
PewDiePie said that selectively restricting him from producing content related to Firewatch violates the website’s own policy.
PewDiePie said that there hasn’t been any legal action involved with Let’s Plays because developers largely benefit from Let’s Plays and many big games like Minecraft owe their success to stramers and YouTubers. He cited an article from Dot eSports saying that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is the second most-watched game on streaming service Twitch.
“Even though yes we are making money through your game, it’s still seen as something positive,” PewDiePie said.
He also said that the case with Firewatch is that it’s a very linear, narrative-focused game giving many players almost the exact same experience. But despite that, people generally still want to play the game even after watching someone else play it because they’ll experience it differently when playing by themselves.
He said he didn’t use any abusive language in the video and he didn’t do anything that he would consider offensive for the video.
“I got to say I’m pretty disappointed also in people defending this that I know personally have had problems with DMCA takedown requests as well,” PewDiePie said.
“Whether you like me or Mr. Vanaman, these laws are made for people to take down content, and whenever there’s power to do so, it’s going to be abused,” PewDiePie said. “Especially when the reason to take down content is nothing to do with copyright, it sort of shows that.”
He added that the laws are important to protect artists and that’s why it’s so dangerous to make these claims for no valid reason.
He said that if anyone has a problem with a video being up, they can tweet him and he will respect their requests. He already respected the request of another developer to take down a video of their game. He would have done the same for the Firewatch developers if they requested him to take down the video.
“I have a huge amount of respect for developers and what they do,” PewDiePie said. “I know my work would not have been possible without them and that’s why I would never go against that.”
He ended the video by saying that it was not meant to attack Vanaman, his development team, or anyone else, and that he just wanted to create a discussion. He also said that Firewatch was a really great game and that he wishes the team the best with their next game.
DMCA, or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, was established to give copyright owners a way to protect themselves from copyright infringement and was created to prevent the upload of entire movies and music tracks on the internet. However, over the years it’s been used spuriously by many different studios and people to take down videos.
Back in 2012, SEGA of Japan forced Youtubers to remove videos of Shining Force III or risk having the channels shut down.
One of the most notorious people to weaponize DMCA takedowns is video game developer Digital Homicide. In 2014, the developer issued a DMCA-style copyright takedown in a bid to censor a video of Game Critic Jim Sterling criticizing their game The Slaughtering Grounds. The developer then filed a libel lawsuit in March 2016 asking for $10 million in damages from Sterling. The case was raised to $15 million before being dismissed with prejudice in February 2017.
In June 2017, Game Composer Alex Mauer issued copyright strikes to over 100 videos containing content related to Starr Mazer: DSP after a contract dispute with the game’s developer Imagos Software. The development team will be taking Mauer to court.