It’s time for the newest installment of In-Depth, where I do a case study on various aspects of Sonic and SEGA with sources and research presented for your convenience. This month, I wanted to take a moment to discuss SEGA and how they treat copyrighted material from fans. This includes videos, fan games, fan sites, pictures, music and more. You may recall that our own Noah touched upon this somewhat in an article on his own. However, I wanted to elaborate more on this topic. In comparison, I will be using Nintendo as an example. To clarify, this is not because I hate Nintendo or because I want the console wars back. This is because Nintendo is the most infamous for how they treat their own fans’ copyrighted material. SEGA and Nintendo’s relationship, past and present, is purely coincidental.
Let me start by saying that Nintendo and SEGA have more power to take down fan content than you may realize. Anything that was not granted permission by the original creator is in fair grounds to be flagged. It is made even worse if you are selling the product that contains any copyrighted material, such as the company’s logos and characters, without their permission. There are also trademarks, too. If a company has trademarked something, that makes it also difficult for you to use. If you use that copyrighted material in any of the methods I listed above, the company technically has the excuse to take it down. However, if your content is a parody of the copyrighted content, you can get away with it. Why? Because obviously you’re not actually using the copyrighted content. The problem that faces fan content creators is holes in the system. The best example is YouTube’s copyright system, where anyone can claim to be the creator of content and knock out your videos, regardless of whether they’re the original creator or not. You can also seek a license of the content from the owner. By doing so, you have been given consent to use the material. However, the owner doesn’t have to grant this license if they don’t want to. As for trademarks and copyrighted stuff, companies have just as much of a battle in earning these things as the fan may have with their own content of it, if not more so. If a company ignored infringements of a trademark, the protection afforded by it gradully vanishes and it could even go away completely, causing the company to lose money (this is why the Streets of Rage 2 remake had been taken down, although to be fair, “Sonic the Hedgehog” is also trademarked). In this case, you will see companies be more strict about trademarked material than, say, a Let’s Play series on YouTube. Because they have to do it. In other words, it’s to “protect their IPs” and so they don’t lose money. The rules of copyright are picky, and in some cases complicated, but they’re there.
With that said, gaming companies vary on how they treat fan-made content. No two companies fit the term “apples and oranges” than SEGA and Nintendo. The two companies enforce these copyright laws in their own respective ways. Nintendo is far more strict than the lenient SEGA, as I’m about to show you. What you see below is a list of various actions that SEGA and Nintendo have done to take down fan content, and the year it happened. SEGA is not innocent in these takedowns, but compared to other companies such as Nintendo, they are surprisingly lenient.
All three listed things are not what they seem, however. As I already explained, the take down of the Streets of Rage 2 remake was a forced action because of “Streets of Rage” being trademarked. The Dreamcast Junkyard book seems to be a case of the copyrighted material being sold in a book for purchase, which is a no-no, as I previously explained. The Shining Force video removals were actually an error by SEGA of Japan. They eventually released a statement on the matter, explaining that North America and European users are excused:
We never give explicit permission to use our intellectual property. We reserve the right to take necessary actions when our properties are used inappropriately, maligned or distributed for profit. However, in North America and Europe we typically will not take action on Youtube videos or similar content. Monetization of Youtube videos is not something we consider, but we will demand the removal of any leaked footage as well as content that uses our properties in a malicious or inappropriate way. We will also not typically take action against works for personal use, school projects, portfolios, etc, as long as the work is not distributed for profit and our ownership of the copyright is acknowledged.
It was not just Shining Force either, as at the time, there were also Sonic & The Black Knight videos being taken down. So if you think Sonic has been getting free passes from copyrights compared to other IPs, you’re wrong. Anyway, on to the list:
Note: above are SEGA’s takedown actions. This does not count copyright-related moments such as SEGA going after eLicense for falsely claiming YouTube videos, their literal endorsement of ROM hacks, and for warning people in advance of the takedown of Sonic Boom episodes on YouTube so they can remove them before any YouTube copyright strikes went out (commentary of episodes are okay though, it’s only direct, unedited rips of the Boom episodes). This also doesn’t include the fan-created Sonic Mania game that SEGA and Sonic Team is publishing.
“Nintendo on Possible Copyright Violation; Korean MMO resembles Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker” (2005)
“Nintendo: Nintendo Take Down Popular Zelda Fan Movie” (2010)
“Nintendo: Nintendo Shuts Down 7,000 Player Pokémon Online Game” (2010)
“Nintendo Enforces Copyright on Youtube Let’s Plays” (2013)
“Nintendo’s Copyright Complaint Against Full Screen Mario Succeeds, Results In Game Closure” (2013)
Nintendo Videos Copyright Flagged in YouTube’s Latest Content ID Sweep (2013)
“Nintendo Issues Cease And Desist To Metroid Fan Film On Kickstarter” (2013)
“Nintendo Making Copyright Claims On Mario Kart 8 YouTube Videos” (2014)
“Creator of ‘Hardest Super Mario World Level Ever’ Says Copyright Crackdown Gutted His YouTube Channel” (2015)
“Nintendo Shuts Down Another Browser Based Game Boy Emulator” (2015)
“Nintendo Has Taken Down The Fan-Made Mario 64 HD Game” (2015)
“Nintendo Takes Down Tool Assisted Speed Run Videos And Rom-Hacked Games On Nicovideo” (2015)
Angry Joe No Longer Making Nintendo Videos After New Copyright Issue Related To Mario Party 10 (2015)
Nintendo Sending Copyright Claims On Mario-Related Minecraft Videos (2016)
“Nintendo Shut Down Bitmap Books’ NES Artbook Kickstarter Amid Copyright Claims” (2016)
“Browser Legend of Zelda Game Removed Due To Request By Nintendo” (2016)
“Nintendo Has Taken Down 101 Character Mario Kart Video” (2016)
“Nintendo Files Multiple Takedown Notices Against Pokemon Uranium” (2016)
“Nintendo Has Taken Down The Super Mario Bros Z Patreon” (2016)
“Nintendo Issues Metroid 2 Remake With DMCA Takedown Notice” (2016)
SilverGunner’s “GilvaSunner” YouTube Parody Channel Hit With Two Nintendo Copyright Strikes (2016)
Game Over: Nintendo Takes Down “Full Screen Mario” Code (2016)
DMCA Notices For Nintendo Fangames (2016)
Note: above are Nintendo takedown actions. this does not count copyright-related moments such as Nintendo’s YouTube program. This also avoids accounts of copyright take downs by The Pokemon Company. This is because Nintendo and The Pokemon Company are separate entities. Nintendo has nothing to do with The Pokemon Company’s initiative on copyright removals. The Pokemon Uranium article is an exception, because the statement from the project creator mentions that the removal request came from “lawyers representing Nintendo of America”.
As you can see, the list is so different between the two companies that it is like night and day. This, however, isn’t an anti-Nintendo article. In fact, it’s the opposite. This is because, as much as it may feel like Nintendo is going overkill to enforce copyright laws, it is legal for them to do. And not only is it legal, but it’s encouraged in the copyright law. Nintendo is allowed to do this, along with all the other gaming companies. The catch is it doesn’t have to be enforced. However, what does SEGA have to do with this? Because SEGA could easily do the same thing at any time. There is nothing stopping SEGA from pulling very similar stunts. They choose not to because of fan outcry, but they don’t have to listen to it. It’s their IP, their content, and the law of the land. It all comes down to the company. And SEGA is not only lenient on fan content, but they’ve endorsed it. It may not seem like it, but SEGA and Sonic fans actually have it made in terms of copyright. SEGA and any other company that is lenient on copyright shouldn’t be praised for “acknowledging the power of fans”. They should be praised for not caring and giving it a free pass. Because that privilege can easily be taken away at any time.