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How to upload gameplay to YouTube without copyright infringements

how to upload gameplay to youtube without copyright
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You’ve spent hours and hours playing your favorite video games and you think you’ve become pretty good at it. Sharing gameplay on YouTube is a great way to share your video game skills with the world. But, have you ever had the experience of uploading an awesome video to your channel only to realize that it has been taken down due to a copyright infringement? If you have indeed fallen foul of YouTube gaming copyright laws, then this article is for you! Here, we’ll outline some tips and tricks on how to upload gameplay to YouTube without copyright becoming a concern…

What happens if you do use content without permission?

What happens if you upload a video with content that infringes on a copyright? The short answer is: It depends.

Looking at different YouTuber experiences, it appears there isn’t one clear-cut course of action YouTube takes regardless of the situation. Rather, their response and what they do to resolve the infringement will most likely depend on how big your channel is (in terms of subscribers), how much revenue your videos have generated for them, whether or not there were any prior warnings or violations related to your account, etc. Generally speaking though, here are some of the more common outcomes when dealing with such issues.

YouTube may take down all of a user’s infringing videos – In this case, it seems as if whatever system YouTube has setup for detecting and punishing video game copyright infringers went a little overboard. The good news is that if you manage to make your videos private (or remove them completely) while YouTube’s automated systems are reviewing the situation, then eventually they will review and lift the suspension after a certain period of time has passed.

Alternatively, YouTube may only take down one or two of your infringing videos even though many videos were found to be in violation – In this case, it appears as if an automated system on YouTube was not able to fully detect all of the problematic content so they took various actions accordingly. Either way, until they finish up their investigation into the matter, most channels won’t be able to upload new videos to keep their audience engaged with new content.

The obvious thing not to do

Let’s start with the obvious; don’t steal your game footage. That should really go without saying really but you would be surprised how often it does happen. It may be because the content creator is simply being lazy and can’t be bothered creating their own videos. Or perhaps they have seen something epic that they want to include in their own video.

Aside from that, you can take certain steps to avoid any problems with copyright. A good rule of thumb is that if it wasn’t yours to begin with, don’t upload it without giving proper credit where it is due to whoever owns the copyright or seeking permission from the creator. And always keep your eyes open for any pre-existing copyright even if you did record it yourself! (we’ll touch more on that in a bit)

What does this mean?

Let’s say your friend has recorded some footage for a Let’s Play series that he or she is making about Fortnite, and you want in on it too! If your friend gives you permission, go ahead and upload that footage onto YouTube as long as you are clear about where the original come from.

avoid copyright infringement
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You should include information such as “Check out these awesome videos created by [insert name] on Youtube.” This will help protect you from claims of misappropriation. Of course, if this was a multiplayer game, you would be wise to make sure that things like the server information was not included in the video either. Remove anything from the game that identifies it; any logos, character names, company names, etc. You should also make sure you are only showing gameplay.

It’s possible that your Let’s Play video won’t make anybody a ton of money but by following these steps you will help prevent any copyright issues from arising and keep those awesome videos online for all to watch. After all, YouTube needs gaming content like gamers need games! And this is a great way to get some exposure and help out your friend at the same time! While there are many ways to share videos of you playing games on YouTube, this method can both be fun and profitable.

Show the creators some love

Similarly, if you put up a video of an indie game, for example, and in the video description say something like “I love this game so much I had to share it with everyone! Please support the developers by buying their awesome game!” then there shouldn’t be a problem. Also, link back to the developers website (if they have one) or whoever owns the copyright on the property.

That said, some video game developers and publishers can be very aggressive in persuing copyright claims against channels that upload footage of their games and intellectual property. So there is not necessarily a hard and fast rule on how how to protect yourself; just best practices to minimuise the risk to your videos.

yotube indie dev

There was actually a time when video uploaders who wanted to play games and share their experiences with the world had no choice but to use copyrighted materials in the form of videos based on scripted walkthroughs. Fortunately, YouTube has evolved over the years and now offers more options for people who want to upload content without breaking any rules or copyright laws.

While we’re covering fair use here, the same information is also applicable if you plan on uploading gameplay footage to Twitch or any other streaming service.

Fair Use of video games

The first step in uploading your fair use video is knowing how copyright law applies to what you want to do with the video! In general, if you plan to monetize your YouTube content by selling ads on your channel, monetizing views, or displaying content in a commercial manner (whether it be for pay-per-view option or as part of an online business), then you will need permission from the owner of the game’s rights before using their content .

If this isn’t the case and instead you only plan on sharing your gameplay with friends and family or some other free platform where no one is paying for anything , then there shouldn’t be any issues related to copyright. Using gameplay in this way is called ” fair use . “

When determining whether your video content falls under fair use, consider these three factors:

1. The purpose and character of your use (i.e., is it commercial/monetized or non-commercial/educational).

2. The nature of the copyrighted work you are using (i.e., fact/fiction).

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken relative to the entire work (i.e., how much was used, particularly how important that part was) .  

Make it your own

Generally speaking, the more transformative your video is – meaning that it changes things up somehow by putting a unique spin on something – then the less likely you are to be held liable for copyright infringement . So make sure that you always include your own ideas and opinions in any gameplay videos that you upload to YouTube – whether it be text commentary or unique visuals. 

For example, if you are making a “Let’s Play” series, then the commentary is clearly your own and thus transformative. 

On the other hand, if you simply upload a replay of a level (i.e., without commentary) , then there is much less of an argument for fair use.

Bottom line,  In order for your fair use arguments to hold up, there has to be meaningful analysis taking place within your video. So what does this mean? Basically, you need to provide commentary about what is happening in the game – especially if it relates to the game’s design, interface, mechanics etc…   You could still make a great video without commentary but the stronger your fair use argument will be, the more likely it is that your video won’t get taken down by YouTube for copyright infringement.

youtubers channels media

So now that you know what is required for a strong fair use case, here is a suggestion to help you avoid running into trouble:

If at all possible, play through a level of the game or watch someone else play through a level before uploading your video.  This way you can learn about any unique aspects of the design and also pick up on any little details (like whether there is an auto-save feature).

Use this knowledge to help you focus in on what is important to show about the game and what is only worth mentioning. If at all possible, learn about these unique aspects first-hand. This also helps keep you in the clear in regards the amount of game footage that you include.

You may want to research how much copyrighted material is used in a game. If you’re not sure whether the developers used copyrighted material or someone else’s intellectual property when making a video game (like CGI cutscenes, graphics or music), then your best bet is to find out what the developer has to say on the subject.

Don’t forget about the music

On the subject of music, if you use game music in your video, it is imperative to seek permission from the rights-holder before using it. 

This is something that has come back to haunt many a streamer or YouTuber who wasn’t careful about what music they had playing in the background whilst broadcasting their gameplay sessions. Typically, this is because the music they were playing is owned by a popular recording label.

But in some cases, the YouTuber may not have been responsible for the music at all. Games like Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA are cramed full of licenced music that could trigger copyright claims. Just because it is in the game, doesn’t mean you have permission to include it in your content.

If the labels find out your content is being broadcasted to thousands of people, and they decide that they want a slice of it by claiming copyright royalties on your videos, you could potentially be paying them hundreds of dollars per video that had their music playing in the background.

The key point to take away from this is – if you use someone else’s music without permission, YouTube will know when it comes time for the Content ID system to look at what you’re uploading. So if you intend on using copyrighted material (music) in the background or foreground of your videos, make sure you get express consent from the rights-holder!

how to upload gameplay to youtube without copyright
(Image credit: Rodnae Productions)

And, if you don’t have permission, remove the offending music. How can you do that? The quick and dirty way is to remove the game’s audio from your video; either by not recording it or by editing out afterwards. If the copyrighted music is only heard for a portion of your video, go with that latter and just trim that section of the audio track out in whatever video editor you are using.

Another tactic is to add some white noise in the background of your gameplay video to soften the impact of any music that is playing in the game. White noise works well for this – it’s basically a bunch of random sounds (like crickets chirping, wind blowing, etc.) that form together into an ambient hum.

YouTube copyright strikes

Copyright strikes are there to protect creators and ensure that everyone is able to get paid for their work. But on the other hand, YouTube copyright strikes can hurt your channel if you wish to maintain it as a source of income. But some companies will weaponize them against YouTubers and content creators in general. If you are on the receiving end of a strike, here are a few actions you may wish to consider taking while waiting for YouTube to finish their investigation:

1. Take down any videos you have on your channel related to the titles which were taken down – If you do not remove these videos from your channel while you wait on the infringed upon content, they will be considered as additional evidence in support of the allegations against your account(s). On various occasions, it has been found that Content ID matches can stack up against a YouTube user so this is very important!

2. Keep an eye out for the emails that will eventually come in regarding the appeals process. Make sure to look at all the emails carefully and respond as fast as you can!

3. Provide a detailed description of what happened regarding the copyright strikes/suspensions, upload screenshots (the more the better), and maintain an open dialogue with whoever is handling your dispute(s). The people who work within YouTube’s content ID system may not have any prior knowledge about video games and gaming so let them know everything that you possibly didn’t in the previous 2 sections. If they still don’t believe that some of your videos are fair use then you’re going to have to really hone those “moments” to make them your own.

Go forth and share

Once all these considerations have been satisfied with regard to your footage, it is time to upload your masterpiece to your YouTube channel and start letting people enjoy your content.

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