There are around 300 hours of new videos added to YouTube every minute. Like… now. And, according to Mediakix, there are over 9 million monthly active Twitch streamers who run live streams for 140 million unique users. These are numbers. What about emotions? Well, it all starts with passion and love at the very beginning.

Recently Nintendo blocked 1300 videos with their game music on one YouTube channel in one day.

But the difference between counting numbers and counting emotions is their final order: a developer first counts numbers, then shares what they love and then, again counts numbers; on the other side players first share what they love and then, sometimes, count numbers. When the numbers and emotions fight there are no winners, but the fight is inevitable, because no one wants to lose neither growing numbers nor shared emotions.

After all, these are game developers or game composers who have more power in this fight which is obvious because they are the creators, so they own their own work. Therefore they’re supported by both law and social platforms (YouTube, Twitch) that try to protect copyrights. But the internet is a soup in a pot where ingredients boil together and share a taste with one another. So sometimes boundaries efface here and there and then things get a bit too hot, which brings us back to check the recipe in a cookbook. Or rather a lawbook.

Recently Nintendo blocked 1300 videos with their game music on one YouTube channel in one day. For the YouTuber, GilvaSunner it wasn’t anything new. A similar situation happened in 2019 and throughout 2020, even though he claims that the videos were’t monetarised. That’s one hand, on the other one, Nintendo is known for really (really!) caring about controlling all their products and being able to share them almost exclusively. On one hand, Nintendo hasn’t put their game’s soundtracks on streaming platforms and regularly refuses to do this, so people look for alternative sources.

Will Nintendo get on with publishing its soundtracks?(!)

But again, on the other hand, it’s not about current money, it’s about future money. When Nintendo wants to monetise their soundtracks one day, they’ll have total control over it. Once again, on the other hand, most of the biggest video game companies share their music on streaming and it’s a part of promotion and engaging people. Yep, the upper hand switches with no end.

That’s the reason why different game studios have different policies about using their music and the best idea is simply take a look at the documentation before using game music in a video. For example, here is Ubisoft’s video policy. They encourage creators to make walkthroughs, Let’s Play, reviews and other creative works, but under some conditions. They forbid distributing game assets, like music, separately. It’s also important whether the music belongs to Ubisoft or to third-parties. If it’s non-Ubisoft music, an owner’s permission is required. Also, “creative work” doesn’t mean a duplication of trailers, ads or non-in-game footage, using these is not permitted.

Why is music ignored in video game reviews?

If you’re confused by a developer’s copyright policy, you can request permission for using their game materials individually. Here is an example of EA explaining how to apply for this. In fact, EA does it very clearly and straightforwardly, but sometimes with others you need to do research and find proper contact by yourself. Again, EA neither owns non-EA music nor third party works included in their games.

It brings us to licensed music, so the music that is owned by record labels. The soundtracks for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series or radio stations in GTA should be muted while streaming. This is because record labels allowed you to listen to their music while in-game, not to share it and stream it. However, recently some game developers have thought about it as well. CD Projekt Red has added a Streamer-Friendly Mode to Cyberpunk 2077. The mode turns out copyrighted music and switches to copyright-free music so you can stream the game freely.

There’s YouTube’s Content ID system that filters music. When something is published unofficially it’s identified right away, flagged and eventually blocked. But game music is not included in the system, it must be reviewed manually by studios or privately by composers if they need to. Yet, if the system included game music it might be like a big ladle taking everything from the online soup, so not only illegally published game music, but also reviews, Let’s Play videos and official materials might be taken down automatically.

Copyright policy is a very fragile ground.

The other thing is fair use. It’s when you use game music only as a subject of review, critique or teaching. You can put commentary over it or you can break it down to instruments and analyse it. This way you transform it, instead of broadcasting it. Copyright policy is a very fragile ground, but after all, “one’s freedom ends where another’s nose begins”.

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Maciej Baska

In the games he happens to stand around at a random location only because there is a great music. For over a decade he's composed, written, recorded and mixed.