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(Update) How Content ID and Party Hard's music screwed both YouTubers and TinyBuild

2017-02-16 17:25:00·  10 minute read   ·  Mike Cosimano@MikeCosimano
0

Nobody Wins

[Update: YouTube's PR team got back to us with some more information on the Content ID system. According to YouTube's help site, content matches for "so-called Royalty free production music libraries" -- see also: the music used in Party Hard -- must be routed to YouTube employees for a "manual review." We asked why the Party Hard Content ID matches went through if they were reviewed by a person rather than the site's automated system, but YouTube declined to comment.

Destructoid was also told that YouTube had implemented a team dedicated to Content ID that has allegedly resolved millions of claims and protected YouTube users from fraudulent claims. YouTube declined to tell us when the team was first implemented or comment on any specific examples of the team's success.

YouTube also clarified that a new version of the Content ID revenue system was in place, where revenue would be held on videos with a disputed Content ID claim. If the YouTube uploader disputes the claim within five days of the original claim, all revenue will be held from the first day of the Content ID match. After the first five days, revenue is held from whenever the dispute was first filed.

Although that all looks good on paper, the details of YouTube's Content ID dispute process falls more in line with the anecdotes I've heard from various YouTubers. If you want to dispute a Content ID match, here's how it goes. YouTubers can dispute the claim, at which point the claimant has 30 days to either release the claim (agree with you and drop the Content ID match), uphold the claim, or submit a Copyright Takedown Request, which essentially annihilates your channel with a Copyright Strike.

If they uphold the claim, you can appeal the upholding, which gives them another 30 days to either release the claim again, submit a delayed Copyright Takedown Request (which gives you seven days to apologize and give up, so your channel isn't ruined with a strike), or submit a Copyright Takedown Request. If you get a copyright strike, then you must file a counter-notification, which gives the claimant 10 days to "provide [YouTube] with evidence that [the claimant] has initiated a court action to keep the content down."

And that's it folks, it couldn't be easier than that; multiple stages of arbitration, during which all revenue on the video is held by YouTube. Best-case scenario, the claimant gives up at stage one and you get your video back along with the revenue held during the process. Worst-case scenario, if you follow this process all the way to the end, you've missed out on 70 days of revenue (that's between four and five paychecks, for those of you on a biweekly payment system) and the nature of American copyright law means there's a good chance your channel will be stuck with a copyright strike. So, yeah. I'm happy to admit that I was wrong -- your money isn't completely lost during the Content ID appeal process, but I didn't know that appealing Content ID claims gave the copyright holder the chance to hit you with a copyright strike. That's not much better.

Again, I must stress, YouTube gave a blanket "decline to comment" when asked for examples of the Content ID team's success.]

[Original story:] Video game YouTubers and indie developers exist in a sort of symbiotic circle. The YouTubers are always looking for the next underground viral hit (Five Nights, Hello Neighbor, Minecraft, et al), and indie developers could earn a strong following off those initial five minutes of fame, turning that into a successful follow-up game or even just a long tail for their primary release. As is the case with the mainstream press and developers of all stripes, that back-and-forth is understood but generally unspoken. But if one side goes off the reservation, like when a game developer starts hitting YouTubers with Content ID claims or when a YouTuber demands money in exchange for coverage, that never works out well for both sides.

In the case of Party Hard, a game from Ukranian developers Pinokl Games and published by indie label TinyBuild, the conflict between developer and YouTuber was not really instigated by either side. For once, this is not a case of bitter game developers trying to censor unflattering criticism. It's just a case of YouTube's Content ID system scraping up against the realities of independent game development, with Let's Players' caught in the middle.

Even though Party Hard's critical reception was muted at best, everyone seems to agree on the soundtrack. Destructoid's own Stephen Turner had good things to say about the setlist and it even won "Best Music" at one of my previous outlets' Game of the Year awards. TinyBuild CEO Alex Nichiporchik even said the OST "was what sold the game." The Party Hard soundtrack as shipped was licensed from "run of the mill licensing sites," and TinyBuild was given a catch-all license in case YouTube or any other Content ID system came a-knocking.

As someone who's used sites like Audio Network or Envato's AudioJungle in the past for projects, songs are licensed on a case-by-case basis, like Nichiporchik says. You pick the song you want, the license that fits your needs, (in my case, it was either single-use for students or multi-use for web publishing) and then you're given a download and certificate. In the case of say, AudioJungle, the minimum license for a video game would be "Music Mass Reproduction." That last one can get pretty expensive, since it's also the license for film and TV use.

But, since Let's Plays are now an integral part of a game's marketing cycle, a single song might have to fall under the "Music Broadcast and Film" license -- where users are allowed to have an "unlimited audience size" for "online broadcasts." It's not hard to grasp once you've dealt with audio licensing enough times (or, in my early days, ignored audio licensing enough times), but if you're culling from multiple sources with different license restrictions, it can get tricky.

In the case of Party Hard, TinyBuild pulled music from licensing website Shockwave Sound (among other places, but we weren't given any additional names). Nichiporchik told me that TinyBuild purchased the "Widest License," which allows end users to do just about anything with the song, aside from selling it or sampling it. Bjorn Lynne from Shockwave Sound told Destructoid that a Widest License would not protect YouTubers from automated copyright claims, but they would remove the claim if requested by "the uploader (or the license holder)."

Lynne makes a good point -- even if you have a license, you'll still probably get an automated Content ID claim on YouTube. Unless you're just posting the song wholesale (and sometimes even then), you won't get a full-on Content Strike. But even a Content ID match could potentially screw up your ad revenue, and that's even if you own the license to begin with. If the game is using original music, then you could point to a disclaimer on a developer or publisher's website that allows content creators to use the stuff in their video game.

For those of you who aren't mid-level YouTubers, although it's not as serious as a full-on strike against your account, Content ID claims are still frustrating. They are often immediate, and can be used to siphon ad revenue from the video in question. Low-ranking creators often have to struggle with the site's rebuttal system before they can get ad revenue working on their video again. While that's happening, the YouTuber is losing out on money during the all-too-important early hours of the video. (Correction: Technically, that money is being held by YouTube during arbitration, but as per our update, you can see it's not as simple as that.)

"Copyright specifically music is a real pain in the ass on youtube. You have to ensure that you have the rights to a song and that you can use it for commercial purposes and you gotta get it in writing," said YouTuber Chris Howard AKA "Pyrostasis" in an email to Destructoid.

Howard was one of the YouTubers who published a Party Hard video, only to be met with a Content ID claim. "I could have attempted to contest the claim but honestly it is a legit claim. I ended up simply removing the Let's Play from YouTube," Howard said. "Which really sucks for me, my audience and TinyBuild. TinyBuild loses out on the free advertising, I lose out on the revenue, my audience never hears about an amazing game, and even the composer's music isn’t heard by anyone."

Bret AKA "HoodiePanda," another YouTuber, agreed with Howard's assessment. Although he wasn't personally affected by Party Hard's music licensing issue, he had the same experience with Geometry Dash. "If a game got claimed I would be very apprehensive to play it again," Bret said to Destructoid. "Nintendo games are something I've actively avoided since day 1 on YouTube specifically for that reason."

PewDiePie, one of the most popular YouTubers of all time, even did a Party Hard video, but it was just a one-off. Nichiporchik blames the original soundtrack and its copyright issues for the singular nature of the Let's Play. "On Twitch we had insane coverage, but on YouTube it was dead because YouTubers would start getting copyright strikes," Nichiporchik said.

He sent me a handful of Twitter conversations with YouTubers, where the official TinyBuild Twitter account smoothed things out with players who were concerned about the sudden Content ID match. Although it was possible to fix the problem, that usually means a lot of work on the part of YouTubers. Nichiporchik believes that plans for regular Party Hard videos were scrapped as a result, and it's not hard to see why.

In order to fix the issue and avoid this kind of thing in the future, Nichiporchik hired composer Ressa Schwarzwald to rewrite the entire Party Hard soundtrack, which can be heard in the game's optional "YouTube mode." The soundtrack was later released on its own as Party Hard Remastered, confusing some customers who thought the album would be a re-released version of the licensed tracks. "I'd highly recommend that devs involve composers in development as soon as you kick into production, as proper use of SFX and great music can elevate your game to much higher levels," he said. Schwarzwald is currently an in-house composer for TinyBuild.

It's worth noting that, for all the examples of YouTubers bailing on Party Hard, several popular creators have given the game plenty of coverage. But you can't discount the bump that would come from the channels with medium-sized but devoted followings, and the Content ID system often works against these channels. We emailed YouTube asking for comment, but they did not respond as of press time.

Some unscrupulous companies have even been known to "content troll" videos, making claims on content they clearly do not own and scooping up the stolen ad revenue while channel owners dispute the claim. This exact scenario recently happened with another TinyBuild-published game, Hello Neighbor

In this particular case, the issue was resolved the "same day," but that's a rarity for most rank-and-file YouTubers. The company cited in this particular instance, "PT Creators Creative Indonesia," appears to be the parent company of an Indonesian YouTube network called Famous.id. This isn't the first time PTCC has claimed a YouTube video they apparently had no rights to, according to this Reddit thread about a Dark Souls Let's Play. Although the claim is from a PTCC "affiliate," I suspect it's the same company -- they didn't respond to our emails either.

TinyBuild also considered licensing the Brit-pop song Murder on the Dance Floor for Party Hard, according to Nichiporchik, but that was a logistic nightmare and would certainly have resulted in more serious Content ID claims. "We got in touch with licensors and had a long dialogue about it, and turned out it's extremely difficult to secure global rights for something like that. Perhaps we're just too small and didn't talk to the right people, but the representative we talked to (in the Netherlands) had rights for EU, but not the US," Nichiporchik said. "Seeing how Steam/console games are a global business, that made it very tricky -- and we didn't have the time to go after all other regional license holders."

Although Nichiporchik is seeing healthier YouTube coverage of Party Hard after installing a YouTube-friendly soundtrack, he still wishes the coverage at launch could've gone down a different way.

"One advice I'd give to devs seeking to license music is to actually buy the license, get the music file, and upload gameplay footage with that music playing as in-game music. Unlist the video and see if you get a copyright claim or not. If you do, think twice about using that licensed music in your game," Nichiporchik said. "We were initially naive and thought we'd just license some great music as an afterthought, and that cost us a lot."




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