Let's Plays are recordings of video game playthroughs that generate billions of views on YouTube. If you search for a Let's Play of Persona 5, however, you won't find many. That's because Atlus, the game's developer and publisher, has been targeting YouTube channels with takedown notices.
Persona 5 is one of the most anticipated RPGs in years, so it's not a surprise that some people would want to record their experiences with the recently released Japanese version of the game. But fans do so at their own risk.
YouTube user Citizen Napoleon started uploading videos of Persona 5—five in total—not long after the game was released. What made his videos unique was his ability to translate the game on the fly for his viewers. (Persona 5 won't be released outside of Japan, and in other languages, until early next year.) Citizen Napoleon is not exactly making it rich on YouTube. As of right now, fewer than 2,000 people have subscribed to his channel. But that didn't stop Atlus, the game's Japanese publisher, from taking action.
"A claimant sent us a legal notice about their copyrighted content in your video," read a notice from YouTube to Citizen Napoleon. "As a result, your video has been removed from YouTube."
I asked Atlus for comment on this incident and others, but the company didn't respond.
The "claimant" was atlustube, the YouTube channel for Atlus in Japan. This isn't the first time the Japanese arm of Atlus has been aggressive on YouTube. At Kotaku, I reported on Atlus targeting YouTube channels for uploading gameplay from Persona 4: Dancing All Night. They even went after reaction videos made for new Persona 5 trailers.
What's happening here is central to a contentious, unresolved debate about ownership on the internet. If you make a video of you playing Persona 5, do you own that? Is the act of play and commentary enough to override the fact that you're engaging with a product that Atlus made? The rise of Let's Plays has helped fuel the rise of YouTube, even if it remains unclear if most companies are even onboard with the concept of people making money off their games. Some publishers have decided to either look the other way or embrace these videos, figuring it fosters a sense of community and may even spread word of the game to a wider audience. Others, like Atlus, turn to the various copyright measures YouTube provides to enact control.
There are a few ways for a copyright owner of a game to handle Let's Plays on YouTube. One, they can allow users to monetize the videos, a.k.a. make money off ads. Two, they can file a copyright claim, which allows the videos to stay online, but any revenue generated goes to the copyright owner. Most companies opt for one or two, while some, like Nintendo, mix those options together. To make money off of Nintendo games, gamers must register videos with Nintendo and then split the profits. The third and the most aggressive option is to have YouTube issue a copyright strike against the offending channel. Channels are only allowed three copyright strikes before they are deleted.
For Atlus, at least in Japan, it's decided to issue copyright strikes. Citizen Napoleon's channel now has two copyright strikes, meaning he's one away from losing everything he's worked on. It's possible to appeal a copyright strike, but it's complicated in a way that would dissuade the average person.
Instead, you either wait three months for the strike to expire or ask the company who filed the original strike to drop it. In the past, I've reported on users who've successfully asked Atlus to remove strikes, especially ones that ultimately shuttered their channel. It's unclear if anyone's had any success getting relief from Atlus over Persona 5.
"I've sent emails to Atlus several times over the past week and received no response," said Citizen Napoleon. As mentioned earlier, Atlus has not responded to my own questions.
Atlus has responded for previous games, telling players to email () if they were worried about their channel but wouldn't elaborate on the company's tactics. Based on conversations I've had with people close to Japanese game companies over the years, however, I've come to learn that a number of Japanese publishers are deeply skeptical of players making money off YouTube videos. Even if it's become very popular outside of Japan, they aren't yet convinced.
Atlus isn't the only Japanese company with confusing video restrictions. When Square Enix released Dragon Quest Heroes, for example, users could only stream the game with the music turned on through YouTube, not Twitch. If you streamed on Twitch, you either had to disable the music (?!) or face the possibility of being hit with a copyright notice from Square Enix.
"Streaming via Twitch is absolutely fine as long as you don't have the music on," a Square Enix spokesperson told me at the time. "YouTube is currently the only video service in the West approved to use if there is music on in the video."
In order to get around these restrictions, Persona fans have resorted to trickery. One reddit user said they'd purposely mislabel the videos "for legal reasons," while others suggested uploading to video services like Vimeo or Daily Motion, where copyright is less strictly enforced. Maybe they should consider uploading to PornHub, the pornographic website that hosted leaked Fallout 4 footage for several days, before that video was taken down, too.
For fans, the the biggest frustration is not knowing what's going on. Given that Persona 5 won't be released in other territories for months, Atlus could be understandably worried about spoilers becoming widespread. Hardcore fans are likely to seek out those spoilers regardless, but if Atlus was upfront about its intentions, fans would at least have something to point to. Instead, it fits a pattern of punishing fans for the act of being fans. Given that fandom is what's made Persona as popular as it is today, that's a bummer.
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