Linesneakers runs a YouTube channel with a humble 23 subscribers. A few days ago, they announced the channel was going on hiatus because of a copyright strike from Atlus for a random video featuring Persona 4: Dancing All Night. They aren't alone. In the past week or so, the company has been on a YouTube tear.
"I'm not exactly sure why the video got removed as it did," said Linesneakers in a video announcing the channel's sudden change of direction, "as a reason wasn't specified. I don't know the first way to go about fighting the strike, either. I don't exactly know what's going to happen with the channel."
If things stay as they are, Linesneakers' channel will be in bad standing until April 2016, at least six months from now. That's a long time. With a single copyright strike, your channel can have video upload limits severely limited, monetisation disabled, and YouTube can decide to totally disable your account.
Last week, a confused and upset Kotaku reader named Craig, who runs the YouTube account Stoneious, asked for help in figuring this out. He'd uploaded several Let's Play videos for Persona 4: Dancing All Night, when the first one was suddenly tagged with a copyright strike from an account called "atlustube."
As it turns out, atlustube is the official Japanese YouTube channel for Atlus.
"I do know that the video that got hit with a strike had well over 100 views," he told me, "which is a lot for me. Maybe that 'popularity' was my own undoing."
Stoneious had a whopping nine subscribers when this happened.
He deleted the rest of his videos, hoping to curb further action from atlustube. So far, he's seemingly in the clear, but like Linesneakers, his YouTube account is restricted for the next six months, when the strike's punishment is lifted.
"I could submit a counter claim," he said, "but that's when it gets all legal and stuff and I'm not willing to risk that even a little bit to get my tiny channel back."
Dealing with counterclaims on YouTube is confusing and scary. YouTube warns content creators to be careful about disputing a claim they're not 100% sure about; there can be permanent consequences, like having a channel deleted.
Curious, I dropped the term "atlustube" into Twitter, wondering if more people had run into similar issues. Unsurprisingly, others had seen strikes from atlustube. The pattern? Targeting videos from small channels. We're not talking YouTube stars with millions of subscribers, people making careers out of talking over video games. These are fans doing stuff in their spare time to an audience of basically nobody -- videos released to the world and seen less than 100 times.
RJC of the YouTube channel The Compendium has been dealing with this issue since July, when Atlus leveraged a copyright strike against him for a Persona 5 trailer reaction video. His videos were limited to 15 minutes, which was a problem; much of what he'd been uploading to YouTube was Let's Play videos.
"From then on I made sure to play it extra safe," he told me. "All the content I uploaded was of publicly released material, and all video game footage was edited to include myself on the screen, along with some commentary, which I believed fell under fair use law. Everything was going fine, I was so close to hitting a big milestone for me and The Compendium: 500 subscribers."
Like other Persona fans, RJC was psyched to share his playthrough of Persona 4: Dancing All Night with the world, so he started uploading videos to YouTube. While at a friend's house, Atlus decided to target him with a series of copyright strikes that went beyond a 15-minute upload limit: his channel was now dead.
Here's a small taste of what CJC found in his inbox:
It goes on and on and on and on.
"It's really scary to think that any YouTube channel can be deleted out of nowhere," he said, "and I hope they somehow fix this. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who doesn't have the amount of support that I've gained. Even if a channel gets absolutely no views, their content is still important because they believe in it. It's not right for YouTube or any company to be able to take that away."
Then, a weird thing happened. RJC's fans told him to contact Atlus, see if they might help out. A few days later, his YouTube account came back from the dead.
"We're gonna be careful about not getting our channel removed again," he joked in the video.
RJC didn't go into detail about what happened with his channel, nor did he respond to my emails in time for this story, but I have a theory.
A number of times now, I've heard from players who've successfully plead their case to Atlus USA and had copyright strikes from the Japanese side removed. This doesn't seem to be an official policy, but where there's smoke, there's fire.
"If anyone is concerned about the content they upload to their channel, I'd recommend they get in touch with [email protected] beforehand," said Atlus USA spokesperson John Hardin when asked about the copyright strikes.
The company declined to speak about specific cases, instead pointing me back towards its recommendation that YouTube creators reach out the company.
It certainly seems like one side of Atlus has a different view on YouTube than the other, with the American arm siding with fans wanting to share videos.
Japanese video game companies having confusing policies when it comes to services like Twitch and YouTube isn't new. Square Enix's restrictions for Dragon Quest Heroes, which technically forbids players from streaming the game with music on via Twitch, are ridiculous. Even Nintendo run afoul of YouTube's most popular when it demanded they hand over a huge slice of their revenue.
My guess is this won't be the last time I'm writing about this, but hopefully Atlus figures out how it wants to handle YouTube before Persona 5 is released.