Shining Force fans, Sega would like to have a word with you
For many years, Sega has been generally supportive of its fandom. In an era where many companies were sending Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) threats to shut down fangames, Sega seemingly turned a blind eye, causing the Sonic Fangames HQ to flourish over the last decade and a half. But every now and then, something happens that suggests maybe not everybody within Sega is as forgiving, such as today’s incident involving Youtube videos featuring… well, basically any game from the Shining Force franchise, it would seem.
This NeoGAF thread has the whole story, but to break it all down, Sega has a new Shining Force game launching in Japan – “Shining Ark” for the PSP. There have been a lot of Shining Force games over the years – the franchise saw its genesis (quite literally) in 1992, and has spawned at least 20 games and two anime adaptations.
In the face of what must be hundreds of hours of Let’s Play and Walkthrough footage, Sega is sending out mass DMCA notices to basically any Youtube channel with Shining Force footage, claiming that the content is illegal. Whole entire Youtube channels are being shut down as a result of this puzzling move, and even popular commentator “TotalBiscuit” is being hit.
It was mostly us smalltime Shining Force fans that were being hit. Who cares about the little guys with videos of 14 year old games, right? Out with the old, in with the new. Well, then Sega made a bigger mistake. They went after TotalBiscuit’s channel. I’m not kidding. He has just been served with his second copyright strike, which means that if he gets hit with one more strike, his entire channel with all the ridiculous quantities of valuable, entertaining content gets shut down. His crime? He has a bunch of Let’s Play videos for Shining Force III.
TotalBiscuit has nearly a million subscribers and a lot more viewers. He has since removed all Sega content from his channel, but he’s lucky. Most folks who didn’t immediately take down their Shining videos after the first warning shots by Sega had their Youtube accounts closed and didn’t get a second chance to comply.
The legality of video game footage has never really been established – if you pay close attention to what’s written in instruction manuals and along the rim of some game discs…
“Unauthorized copying, reverse engineering, transmission, public performance, rental, pay for play, or circumvention of copy protection is strictly prohibited.”
— Sonic Generations game disc (emphasis mine)
But, technically, there are laws that should protect such things like walkthroughs and let’s plays – it’s called “Fair Use“, though its reach is nebulous and ill-defined. Fair use is often decided on a case-by-case basis, but generally states that works of commentary, criticism, and demonstration are all legal uses of what is normally copyrighted material. Fair use, for example, is what allows something like my Sonic Generations video review to exist, because it contains commentary, criticism, and demonstrates the game in question.
What is theorized by the NeoGAF thread is that Sega is issuing these copyright complaints in order to eliminate confusion with other Shining Force titles and better promote Shining Ark. If true, that would be an extremely heavy-handed and possibly illegal marketing campaign. It certainly isn’t aided by Youtube’s copyright policy, which is to assume that any complaint is valid without considering the basis of such claim. Youtube users effected by faulty copyright claims can submit counter-notifications to clear their name (seen above), but the process is slow and dangerous – Youtube warns that if a counter claim is unsuccessful, by law the issue must be settled in court via lawsuit. Guilty until proven innocent, in other words, and possibly in danger of incurring thousands of dollars in legal fees over a Youtube video of a game that came out more than a decade ago.
This is a legal quagmire that only seems to be getting more complicated as Youtube layers in new rules and policies, and as of yet Sega has not offered any official reason as to why this is taking place. We’ll keep you posted should anything further develop.