DMCA Used to Enforce Moral Rights in Video Games

DMCA Used to Enforce Moral Rights in Video Games

In the United States, moral rights are protected at the federal level through section 106A of the U.S. Copyright Code.[1] The provision provides for the right of attribution and the right of integrity to authors of certain works only. Specifically, authors of works of visual art, which is defined as a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, or a still photographic image. These are subject to certain conditions of both quantity (must be single copy, or not exceeding 200 copies which are to be signed and consecutively numbered by the author) and purpose, in the case of still photographic image (it must be produced for exhibition purposes only). [2]

This leaves authors of works which do not qualify for these categories to seek out alternative methods of enforcing their moral rights, such as through the use of contracts and state laws. [3] An indie video game studio has recently opted to use the Digital Rights Millennium Act (“DMCA”) to champion their moral rights claim. [4]

“Let’s Play” videos involve people prerecording or livestreaming themselves playing video games so that audiences can experience their reactions and commentary as they play. The occupation is both popular and highly lucrative, with its most popular streamer, Felix Kjellberg (known as “PewDiePie”), having over 57 million subscribers.[5] The videos are generally hosted on YouTube or, a live-game streaming site, and can include hours of video game content being shown online. Sometimes this can feature the experience of playing an entire video game from beginning to end. It is not hard to imagine that if this same act was replicated on other forms of entertainment media—for example, the streaming of an entire movie with commentary—then it would quickly fall victim to a DMCA takedown. But video games have never operated the same way as movies or music.

There is a tacit understanding between Let’s Play video makers and video game developers; the owners of the copyrighted work ignore the potential infringement of their copyright in turn for the free publicity that the videos generate for their games. Camp Santo, for example, loved that “people stream and share their experiences in the game.” [6] They loved it, that is, until they requested a DMCA takedown for a video of PewDiePie playing their video game, Firewatch.

DMCA allows holders of intellectual property to request takedowns from service providers. [7] It is the hated, red-headed stepchild of the internet, especially in the gaming community,  where  it  is  seen  as  a  mechanism  for  blocking  out  competition  and  censoring criticism.[8] Camp Santo wasn’t attempting to curtail a negative review. They simply did not want their game featured on PewDiePie’s channel. Their problem with PewDiePie? His casual use of Nazi jokes and racial slurs.

A little while ago, the YouTuber paid Indian actors to hold up signs that read “Death to All the Jews”. The stunt cost him his partnership with Disney’s Maker Studio, YouTube and Google’s Preferred ads. [9] He followed that up with the use of the n-word in another one of his live-stream videos. Neither one of these offending videos featured Camp Santo’s work. Nevertheless, Camp Santo did not want their brand and their work associated with PewDiePie. Camp Santo believed that by allowing their content to be featured on PewDiePie’s channel they were implying a tacit endorsement of his behavior, thereby tarnishing their reputation. Under the Canadian Copyright Act [10], prejudice to Camp Santo’s reputation, as the author of a work associated with PewDiePie, would constitute infringement of Camp Santo’s moral rights. In the U.S. the ambit of moral rights protection is limited to selected works which do not include video games. Google, YouTube and Disney had partnerships they could terminate, and contracts they could fall back on. Camp Santo had only the DMCA to dissociate their work from PewDiePie.

The DMCA is not a panacea to moral rights problems for works existing online. A major problem with using DMCA is the issue of the fair use exception US law. [11] Let’s Play video makers insist that their commentary makes their work a product of fair use. Since the matter has never been taken to Court, it is an undetermined area of law. Here, once Camp Santo requested the takedown, PewDiePie removed the video and it was later deleted by Google. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether this novel way of protecting moral rights may have any further use in the realm of video games.


Tina Mirzaei is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and was enrolled in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law Intensive Program. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a blog on a topic of their choice.

[1] 17 USC § 106A.

[2] 17 USC § 101.

[3] Greg J Yonover, “The Precarious Balance: Moral Rights, Parody and Fair Use” (1996) 14:79 Cardozo Arts & Entert LJ 79 at 94.

[4] Jonathan Ore. “Is Playing Video Games on YouTube a Copyright Infringement? No One Wants to Find Out”, CBC News (October 7, 2017), online: < 1.4309312>

[5] Ibid, Note 4.

[6] Kyle Orland, “Firewatch Dev Uses DMCA Against PewDiePie After Streamed Racial Slur”, arsTECHNICA (September  11,  2017),  online:    <


[7] 17 USC § 1201.

[8] Sebastian C Mejia, “Fair Play: Copyright Issues and Fair Use in YouTube’s ‘Let’s Play’ and Video Game Livestreams” (2013) 1 at 5. Online: <>

[9] Supra, Note 4.

[10] See section 28.2(1) of the Canada Copyright Act RSC 1985, c. C-42.

[11] See 17 USC § 107 and 1201(c)(1).