How YouTube Copyright Claims Work

I’ve had a number of people tell me that they’re a bit scared to make YouTube videos about games, because they’ve heard spooky stories about copyright claims on game footage.

I wanted to try and demystify the whole process and provide some practical advice on dealing with sort of stuff. This post will be public so I can share it with anyone who asks about this. 

How does it work?

As soon as you upload, your video is automatically checked against a database of videos and music to see if it can detect an audio or visual match. This is called ContentID

What will happen to my video if there's a match?

You will receive an email from YouTube, or you can see the claim in your video manager. It looks like this:

It tells you who owns the original material, the exact part of your video that got flagged, and whether it was visual or audio.

You can also see what the copyright holder has done. They will most likely put ads on your video and then take all of the revenue for themselves.

They have the power to block the video, block it in certain countries, or mute the audio. But simply taking your cash is much more likely. The most overzealous copyright holders, Nintendo and Konami, just take the cash.

What can I do about it?

You can fight it (Fair Use in US and Fair Dealing in UK allow you to use some copyrighted material for criticism purposes) but it’s a bit scary.

The claim goes to the copyright holder to decide, not YouTube. And YouTube threatens you with account termination if you misuse the system. Eek! If you need to do this, you may wish to seek legal advice. 

Here's what the form looks like:

In most cases, though, it’s easier to simply delete the video, re-edit, and try again.

You can replace the offending music or audio with something different. Try to use public domain music or get permission from artists. And capture your own footage, or ask a Let’s Player if you can use their video, instead of using trailers or videos from publishers.

The nice thing about games is that they're interactive, so your own gameplay footage will always be different to the stuff in the database!*

If you absolutely need to show a specific piece of video (maybe a non-interactive section like a cutscene) or audio to critique it, you can try and use less of it. Instead of playing a full cutscene and then taking about it, play 20 seconds - cut away to discuss that part - cut back to the cutscene and repeat. 

(Though, if you are specifically talking about a piece of video or audio because you're reviewing or critiquing it, then you should probably dispute the claim).

Does anything bad happen if I get one of these claims?

Nope. It means nothing. You won’t lose features or risk an account ban. I’ve got a handful of them!

So nothing to worry about then!

Well, I'd be remiss not to mention that there are more serious claims, called Copyright Strikes, which is when a copyright holder manually complains to YouTube about a live video, and YouTube agrees that the claim is accurate. 

But this is extremely rare (especially in games). Plus, you can fight these strikes as well, and you’ll need three copyright strikes before your channel is terminated. 

Oh, and in the most famous example of this - when developer Digital Homicide tried to kill Jim Sterling’s videos because he was criticising their games - the YouTube creator came out on top. That should scare off any naughty devs trying to shut down valid criticism!


Yeah So don’t worry.

Getting a copyright claim can happen on YouTube but it isn’t all that scary - especially in the realm of games. You can live with it and miss out on some cash. Dispute the claim and hope for the best. Or just edit the video and try again. 

Don’t let the fear of this stuff stop you from getting your voice out there, or your opinions heard. The world needs to hear your thoughts on how you would fix Sonic the Hedgehog’s gameplay, damnit!

Lemme know if you have any questions in the comments below, or on Twitter

*I once got a copyright claim on footage I captured myself, from Super Mario Run. YouTube's algorithm is very good, and Nintendo are the worst.