Vimm University: The Copyright Boogeyman!
Hey there, it's @ddrfr33k, back again with another Vimm University post! This one's going to be pretty heady, but it's relevant to pretty much everyone who streams on the platform. Today, we're talking about Music Copyright!
Most of you have probably heard of copyright. But do you know what it means? Do you know why it's important? Remember that Vimm University post about branding? Copyright ties into that branding discussion a lot more than you'd expect! Copyright is a way for a brand holder to protect that brand. According to the US Copyright Office:
Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.
That might seem like a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo, but you can boil it down to a really simple concept. If you make a creative work, like a song, a book, a poem, or even a stream, that work is granted certain protections. The biggest protection of all is the right to monetize. Someone else can't just go out and publish your hard work and profit without paying you for it. Let's be honest, you wouldn't want someone rebroadcasting your stream so they can get the upvotes off of your likeness, right?
This also means that the video games you play are protected as well. Streaming a game, the act of recording your play of a game, falls into a really weird space known as derivative works. Derivative works involve taking an element of a copyrighted work, changing it in some way, shape or form, and then making it into a new work. An example of this would be a remix of a song. Think of "Sing It" by Eminem.
He included the guitar riff from Aerosmith's "Dream On" as well as Steven Tyler's voice for the refrain. But then he looped the guitar riff, added lyrics, and made it into a whole 'nother song. For streamers, the combination of your gameplay, plus your commentary/voice, along with a face camera (if applicable), technically makes your content a derivative work. Unfortunately, this is legally very murky, as there really isn't a true court precedent to fall back upon.
According to LegalZoom, derivative works are only available to the copyright holder. Fortunately for us, the vast majority of video game publishers and developers allow derivative works of their games. There was a fiasco involving Nintendo at the EVO world championships a few years back. Nintendo blocked the broadcast of Super Smash Bros. Melee from the tournament because they wanted Super Smash Bros. Brawl to be played instead. After enough fan push-back, Nintendo finally relented, and the Melee tournament was allowed to be broadcast. Legally, if Nintendo hadn't reversed direction, they could have blocked the broadcast of Melee. That is within their right. Thankfully, we're an important enough aspect to gaming that the rights holders recognize the value in allowing all you awesome streamers to make derivative works.
- ASCAP (https://www.ascap.com/): Covers artists like Darude, The Backstreet Boys, Jay-Z, and Missy Elliot.
- SESAC (https://www.sesac.com): Covers a lot of Universal Music artists, as well as some Sony performers, too. Ke$ha, Guns n' Roses, KISS, and Hanson are covered by SESAC.
- BMI (https://www.bmi.com/): Covers a majority of Sony Records, as well as bands/performers like Eve 6, Lil' Wayne, Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton.
There's others like IODA, but they represent a much smaller segment of the music industry. For all copyrighted music, you have to have a broadcast license to be able to broadcast it on your stream. This is especially important for the awesome people that run internet radio stations on Vimm. The good news is that, for the most part, licenses for broadcasting are relatively easy to obtain. ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI all have broadcast licenses available for purchase and they're not super ridiculously expensive.
When it comes to copyrighted music in video games, it gets a bit more complicated. The way the law is written, you have to secure broadcast rights for every song in the game you're playing. In practice, it's usually a non-issue. There are the occasional songs that rights owners might not want rebroadcasted without a license, even in the context of a video game. Yes, that includes my beloved DDR. As The Rush Comes by Motorcycle is one such song that I have to be careful doesn't show up in my streams. When I do my Extra Life fundraisers, I have to make sure the entire group knows that that song is straight up verboten or I'll get sued into oblivion. And that's just the way it is. I may not agree, I think it's ridiculous, but there's not much that I can do about it.
When it comes to game music, we have a very specific policy. We won't seek out streamers and shut off their streams for not having the right licensure, but we will act if we receive a takedown notification. It's required in order to maintain our DMCA safe harbor status. We will help you if you have questions, but we cannot give you legal advice. Remember, in the Vimm Terms of Service, you agree that you have permission from all the relevant copyright holders to broadcast the content you share. We can help you grow, but we also want you to be in the best shape possible. When in doubt, talk to a lawyer who specializes in copyright law. They are better equipped to answer questions specific to your situation.
I know this is a very deep topic, and something that can't really be easily explained in a blog post. But it's a start, and it's something I've had to do my share of research on over the past couple years. Hopefully some of this makes sense, and some of it is helpful to you. We want to see you #streamonvimm and make the best content you can! Class dismissed!