Let’s Plays: Copyright and Other Risks in Gaming Content
Play through the latest game or stream a gaming session while making money in the process? It’s a dream come true for for well-known greats like Gronkh, MontanaBlack and Trymacs – so of course others want to follow suit. But aspiring streamers and video content creators are often quickly faced with reality: To earn money with gaming content, you don’t just need a lot of views and perseverance – there are also a lot of legal issues to consider. We tell you what’s important to think about here.
Let’s Plays – What Are They Anyway?
A Let’s Play, simply put, is a format that allows you to let other people share in your gaming experience. These gaming videos first became popular as pre-edited videos on YouTube, but they’re now also live streams on Twitch, YouTube and other platforms.
This article tells you everything about Twitch, how streams work, and what you need to keep in mind: Twitch for Businesses
Which Games Can You Let’s Play?
Video and computer games, like films and music, are always copyrighted works. That means you’re generally not allowed to upload a video with game content on a platform or stream the game content live.
Games and Copyright
As mentioned above, games are copyrighted works. The directive “on copyright in the digital single market and amending directives 96/9/EC and 2001/29EC” protects intellectual and artistic works. The rights for the respective games are usually owned by the publishers who bring the games to the market, such as Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed), Activision (Call of Duty), Epic Games (Fortnite) and so on. Many of them are already taking into account the trend towards Let’s Plays and live streams and offer online guidelines, rules and licensing terms to create a legal framework for the use of their games.
If the use of a computer game for Let’s Plays is expressly permitted, you can assume that this also includes the music in the game. The Association of the German Games Industry e. V., for example, has created a list in which the guidelines for Let’s Plays from some publishers are linked. So as a streamer, you know about the copyright status from the outset and can devote yourself to your project with peace of mind.
Be Careful With Music and Sounds in Games
Of course, a good game also needs a good soundtrack. But if it’s audible in your videos or streams – for example during a streaming break or as a video intro – you might get hit with a written warning. That’s because the music publishers also own the rights to the sounds used in games.
On the video portal Twitch, which is popular for Let’s Plays, more and more written warnings, video and even complete account bans have been issued due to music being used on the channel; for example some Let’s Players used well-known pop songs as their intro. It’s not surprising since you have to acquire the necessary rights to distribute music online. You can obtain permission for this, for example, directly from the relevant collecting society (for a fee, of course) – GEMA is usually the right place here. The website of the collecting society provides you with an overview of the various licensing rates. You also have the option of acquiring the rights directly from the music labels. This may seem like a lot of work when you’re getting started, but consider how much time and frustration litigation could cost you if you don’t make this investment up front.
You acquire a license to use a work – in this case a computer game – for certain purposes. And even if some publishers allow the use of their content for Let’s Plays under certain conditions, you need a license to play it publicly – the mere purchase of a game only entitles you to private use. The document for this can be created in a digital or analogue form – both are possible as long as the author is correctly named.
Free Music Is a Great Alternative
If you can’t or don’t want to purchase the rights to certain recordings, freely available works offer a good, cheaper alternative. These are recordings whose creator is not a member of a collecting society and who makes their work available for free use.
But you also have to be cautious here because the free use has to apply to both the composition itself and the recording. Because both the composer as the author and the performing artists can assert their rights to the piece. It’s best to always check the sources of free music thoroughly. Because it’s always possible that it may have been unlawfully published by third parties and falsely marked as free.
By the way: YouTube offers the option of checking music for usage rights. To do this, just select the video tools in your YouTube account and click “Music policies” from the drop-down menu. You can enter your favourite track there and find out whether and to what extent use of the work is permitted. There are also many freely usable pieces of music to choose from under the menu item “Audio library”.
Let’s Plays Without a License – What Could Go Wrong?
If you’re hoping to fly under the rights holders’ radar and save yourself the cost of licensing, we’re going to have to disappoint you. Authors are (rightly) quick to assert their rights to their own work – which can quickly become expensive for you. But even if you’ve ensured to the best of your knowledge that you have the license to use the content, someone may still assert a claim to it.
The Professional Indemnity Insurance for Digital Professions from exali is by your side for such cases. The insurer will examine claims made against you, defend against unfounded claims on your behalf and pay the costs of legitimate claims.
Vivien Gebhardt is an online editor at exali. She creates content on topics that are of interest to self-employed people, freelancers and entrepreneurs. Her specialties are risks in e-commerce, legal topics and claims that have happened to exali insured freelancers.
She has been a freelance copywriter herself since 2021 and therefore knows from experience what the target group is concerned about.