In these days I’m finally releasing Goscurry on Steam. Marketing is important for a release, and that means not only magazines but also YouTubers. The relationship between game developers and YouTubers has sometimes been the subject of some controversies, but in the end it’s very reciprocal. We create games they can make videos about, they give us exposure and fresh feedback. All of us gamedevs are happy when that happens, as I believe/hope YouTubers are happy to play our games (unless those games suck so blandly you can’t even make irony about them).
So, back to Goscurry. When I was prepping for release, ThunderGemios10 made a video about it. Soon after, he got a claim from CD Baby, stating the video was using copyrighted music by Isak J Martinsson and couldn’t be monetized. Well. Isak is Goscurry’s musician and neither him nor I want any claim from CD Baby on Goscurry’s videos. He looked into it and found a semi-hidden CD Baby option he needed to disable. He did that. Then we waited.
Two weeks later, that option was finally disabled, so we finally set Goscurry’s release date (since we didn’t want to release it while CD Baby was messing with us). Then ThunderGemios10 made another video. He got another claim from CD Baby. Isak and I got very pissed about it and you can read more about it here. In short, CD Baby says that, even if that option is now fully disabled, they might continue to send claims until January 29 (they don’t say that on their website: they said that in a mail to Isak after he inquired). YouTubers can contest the claim and get back to monetizing their content (because we fully allow monetization of Goscurry’s videos), but it’s still a pain in the ass.
While debating this issue with other fellow gamedevs, it appeared we were all uncertain if CD Baby was truly an issue or not. While I was utterly against it, another dev stated that YouTubers don’t really care. They just contest the claim and move on. While I believe that certainly CD Baby is behaving like malware (because if Isak, the musician who solely owns his music, disabled that option, you can’t continue to send claims unless you’re running a scam), I wanted to investigate more. I decided to ask a very kind YouTuber I was talking with to write about his experience with music holding companies. He wrote a long and very enlightening letter addressing all gamedevs, and here it is. He asked to remain anonymous so no names for you.
Over the last couple years we’ve seen more and more examples of Youtubers getting copyright strikes delivered by music holding companies, almost every YouTuber has to deal with, even the smaller ones. Personally as a Games Journalist and Youtuber, I understand the use of these services; they help protect copyright and ensure that a musician’s work isn’t being ripped off. The problem however is that they go about this job a little overzealously and often not with the sorts of scruples you’d like to see.
The fact of the matter is these sorts of companies, such as CD Baby in this case, make it harder for me to promote, critique, or showcase your work and disincentive me from covering your products in the future. Dealing with these people is an unpleasant and often lengthier process than you might expect. Often times we’re talked down to by such companies, or outright ignored, and they know the Youtube Content ID system like the back of their hands, so they’ll employ every trick they can to drag out disputation for as long as possible in the hopes we’ll give up. They have no care for whether our videos are promoting your product or not, or whether it’s transformative and under fair use; all they care about is that 3.5 seconds of your game’s music could be heard uninterrupted, and that means they’re entitled to 50-100% of all revenue that video earns.
Now to be clear I’m not placing any sort of blame on you developers or the musicians themselves. Whenever I get a claim from someone directly involved like that, I acknowledge it or reach out to contact the people involved so everyone can leave the situation on good terms. You’re more than entitled to make money of off your product, and in many ways I consider it my job to help you do that. But these companies aren’t interested in the fact that we’re trying to make you guys money with our promotion, or providing necessary critique of your product (which does include the music) as is protected under fair use law. What they want is a bigger cut of the profits from your work, and the easiest way that they can directly impact that cut is by increasing the revenue they gather for you from Youtube.
There are certainly assholes out there who will upload your entire OST without permission, I’m not defending them, but those do not represent the majority of videos these companies are putting claims on. While I can’t claim to speak for every YouTuber out there, I can tell you right now that if you were to manage these claims personally, you’d quickly see that most of us are more than reasonable and willing to work with you on issues of copyright. We want to see the industry thrive as much as you do, and while we may not like every game you end up putting out, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want you to succeed. Quite simply we just want to be paid (not well I might add) for the work we do without having to spend months yelling at a faceless music company only tangentially related to the product.