The short answer is, I don’t know.
The closest thing YouTube has given me to a long answer is: “This account has been suspended due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy against spam, gaming, misleading content, or other Terms of Service violations.”
That doesn’t sound like an accurate description of anything I’ve ever used YouTube’s services for.
My history with YouTube is pretty benign. For a couple years after signing up a YouTube account, I didn’t use it for anything but managing subscriptions and favorites. Then I bought a cheap USB screen capture dongle thing and, to test it out, uploaded a silly video of some dancing dogs from Suikoden. Maybe a year or so after that, just to prove to a guy on Talking Time that I could do it, I recorded myself beating Ring Man in Mega Man IV without any weapons and without getting hit. And then, since I had a microphone laying around, I recorded myself talking over Mega Man III. Then I did a couple more games, included an obscure Game Boy title called Shantae. That one got watched by the game’s creators, who linked up my YouTube channel on their blog and gave me more subscribers than I ever imagined I could get.
It’s been a lot of fun. Making and uploading Let’s Play videos has been the most rewarding hobby I’ve ever had. I’ve had lots of webpages and blogs and indie game projects and forums and things, but I had never had a real audience, and that made all the difference to me. It’s a good feeling knowing that a thousand people like some thing you made.
Let’s Plays exist in a kind of murky legal space. Nobody’s really sure whether they are covered under Fair Use, largely because nobody’s ever challenged them in court. I believe nobody has ever challenged them because, from the game company’s point of view, an LP series is at worst a harmless derivative work, and at best free advertising. That being said, it’s still possible that a game company could come along and slap an LP with a copyright claim. This is something we just sort of live with, just like people who write fan fiction or make unofficial sequels or remakes. In fan communities, authors or companies that actively hunt down fan works are considered draconian.
Since there’s no official set of rules to making LPs while staying within the bounds of copyright law, I’ve always adhered to a few unofficial ones:
- Never LP a game that isn’t at least one year old. Putting up complete gameplay videos of brand new games has always seemed tacky to me, Fair Use or no. This is why I let my blind run of Mega Man 10 chill on my hard drive for a year before uploading it. I have a blind run of Journey chilling right now for the same reason.
- Keep the videos family friendly. Vulgar videos are more likely to be flagged, and besides, I liked the thought of little kids enjoying my videos along with their gamer parents. (I know of at least one case where this has happened, and it made me feel all warm and squishy inside.)
- If a video was ever flagged or removed, do not contest it. No matter what, I had to remember that I was uploading copyrighted material, and that the copyright holder had every right to remove that material if they so chose. Lots of YouTubers just re-upload the video (sometimes to the same account!), which struck me as petty and stupid.
I never held any illusions that these things would protect me forever, but there are a lot of LPers on YouTube who skirt the copyright lines a lot more dangerously than I ever did. Never once, though, have I had a video flagged or removed for copyright reasons. I’ve received a few copyright notices, little automated responses from YouTube saying “Hey, this might be a problem, but it might not, so don’t worry about it for now.” I think I accumulated three of these over 700+ videos.
These notices, by the way, are not the same as “strikes”. When your account receives a strike, that means that a copyright holder has filed a complaint against your content and the content was pulled. Three of these, and the account is terminated permanently. This has never happened to any of my videos. If it had, I would have removed every video from that LP series, as well as every LP series of a game by that company. And then I might have taken a six-month-long hiatus from uploading new series, since that’s how long it takes for a strike to go away.
The truth is I don’t know why the account was terminated. YouTube didn’t offer any warning or explanation. There are several appeal forms at various parts on the YouTube site — and I found a couple more doing research into people whose accounts were similarly banned. I filled all these out to the best of my ability. Some of the articles and conversations my research turned up implied that I could wait forever for a response and never get one. Others say their accounts were reinstated after various periods of time. I have no idea where on that line my situation falls. A couple of these resources mentioned writing an open letter to YouTube to plead your case, so that’s what I’m doing now.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think my termination had anything to do with copyright violations. I had a screwy moment logging into Google early today saying there had been “suspicious activity” on my account. I immediately verified my account using my cell phone, changed the password, and purged a couple of websites linked to my Google login that I no longer use. It wasn’t until I tried refreshing my YouTube window that I was informed my account was gone. It’s possible my account became compromised somehow.
I’m also aware that it’s YouTube’s policy to “ban first, ask questions later”. There are lots of complaints of innocent folks getting their accounts banned because of users falsely flagging their videos. If, say, a bunch of people went through my Mega Man videos and flagged them inappropriate for hate speech or pornography, YouTube’s robots would ban the account automatically. This doesn’t strike me as particularly likely, though, because it would require me to have some really malicious enemies… and quite frankly I’m not that interesting.
It’s also been pointed out that last week I uploaded a video with no purpose other than to plug a friend’s Kickstarter project, and that might run up against one of YouTube’s meaningful content terms. I don’t think this is very likely either, though, because that video stayed up until this point without incident, and if it had been in violation I would think the violation would be minor enough to merit a strike rather than immediate termination. But, again, I have no way of knowing.
My message to YouTube: Please re-instate my account as soon as possible. If the termination was a mistake, please correct it and you will have my gratitude. If it was in response to a copyright claim, please inform me which video is the offender so I can remove it and all the ones related to it. If the account cannot be reinstated, at least tell me what went wrong.
I have never made a dime from uploading Let’s Play videos; it is a hobby, pure and simple. I have received many offers from dubious “gaming networks” who wanted to monetize my videos, but I have ignored them all. Part of your mission statement is to give people a platform to showcase their skills and talents. Well, my skills and talents begin and end at playing video games and being capable of witty banter. That may sound strange but about a thousand people seemed to really enjoy it. It brightened their lives and it brightened mine too. I would like to keep doing it.
My message to my subscribers: I don’t know what this all means for the future of my Let’s Plays. If my account is not reinstate then my oldest stuff, like Shantae and Secret of Evermore, is simply gone forever. As for the rest of the stuff, it may or may not appear on another video site at a future date. As for the current series, Shiren and Risky’s Revenge, I will try and make it a priority to make them available, if possible.
If you have the means, please try and politely let YouTube know that you would like to see my account reinstated. There is no way I know of to contact YouTube directly via e-mail or the website, but you can spread the word about my ban and why you’d like to see it lifted by hitting your social media of choice and pointing people to this blog post. Better yet, you can upload a video to YouTube with an open letter of your own. If nothing else, the show of solidarity will do me good!
Above all, I want to thank everyone who watched and enjoyed my videos. I never wanted anything from you guys except your eyeballs, and I really loved having the chance to entertain so many people for so long by doing the silly kind of stuff I’ve been doing on my own since I was a kid. I know I have done a lot to entertain folks, and to introduce them to games they wouldn’t have played, and to help them experience games they didn’t want to play, and to teach them something about gaming history as I understand it.
Thank you for reading, and fingers crossed that this whole thing blows over quickly.