Riot Games has the right to issue Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices for any League of Legends footage that appears without their permission online. But thus far, Riot's been relatively hesitant to do so. This week, one YouTuber in particular has seen some League of Legends videos go up on the chopping block, and Riot Games has yet to weigh in about the ultimate fate of these videos.
This YouTuber, who posts on a channel called "League Highlights" and who goes by Catfish_BILLY on Reddit, recently uploaded some footage of Korean team SK Telecom T1, including footage of the popular player Lee Sang-hyeok, who goes by "Faker". Soon thereafter, Catfish_BILLY said that SKT filed a DMCA takedown against some of the footage. He posted an email that he said was from SKT, which said: "SKT1's copyrights include its emblems and its player photos... [and] players' highlight/montage videos, streams, and any other VODs related to SKT T1."
The email went on to clarify that Riot Games owns all footage of the game itself, explaining, "Riot Games, who has the control over fan-created League of Legends contents, officially stated that actions to gain profit by making video contents of any teams' players are prohibited... Also, Riot Games acknowledged that SKT1 has the copyright over its players' spectate videos."
It's relatively rare to see a League of Legends-related DMCA takedown issued against a fan commentator — and thank goodness, since DMCA claims can strike a big blow against budding YouTubers. These takedowns operate according to the "three strikes" rule, so if you get a trio of DMCAs, you're booted from YouTube. Catfish_BILLY has 66,543 subscribers. Sure, it's not in the millions, but it's still more than enough to warrant some concern about starting all over again.
Catfish_BILLY also posted a list of the three videos that SKT requested to be removed. They're all videos involving Faker, although Catfish_BILLY has also made other Faker videos that were not included in the takedown request.
SKT1 went on post a statement about this takedown from their official Twitter account. In the statement, SKT leaned more heavily on emotional language rather than legal jargon as their argument for individual fans to not post LoL footage, stating that they wanted to protect "the welfare of our players" and, furthermore, that the issue revolved around a concern about fans getting "confused between official SKT stream channel and third-party streamers, causing the split in viewership and ultimately damaging our player income."
The statement went on to clarify that SKT "would like to apologise for our initial approach without fully understanding the copyrights of LoL contents and rushed takedowns of VODs despite that we have not fully communicated with the legitimate IP holder of the contents, Riot Games. In the future, we will carefully review the VODs that may cause serious brand or monetary loss to SKT and its players, and request for takedown only through Riot Games."
This follow-up suggests that although SKT has permission from Riot Games to stream their players' footage on their own channels, they don't necessarily have the right to pursue takedown notices when other channels re-appropriate that footage and/or commentate on it. It also seems as though SKT only issues takedowns in certain cases. Catfish_BILLY points out in one comment that "Nobody complained about me editing footage from Pro's streams in an official manner" and, in another comment, "I've never ran into any problems regarding copyright issues up to this point." These videos already got taken down, at least for the moment, and Catfish_BILLY also posted about getting "kinda scared" and removing some other SKT videos as a result of the experience. When asked for comment, Catfish_BILLY elaborated:
"I honestly don't have much to say except that some of the companies should know that it doesn't take much more than a simple email BEFORE the DMCA takedown to get rid of some content you don't want there to be. You really don't have to involve a broken copyright system; we (channel owners) are not some multi-billion dollar company that you'll have to fight in court or anything.
It was also extremely disappointing that SKT decided to straight up lie about their deal with Riot in order to intimidate smaller YouTubers. With that in mind I won't keep up any SKT T1 videos as I respect their decision to build their own brand on YouTube (all the videos are already gone, including the ones that were taken down) but the DMCA takedowns have to absolutely go and I'll keep fighting to get the retraction. Also I hope Riot won't go as far as copyrighting everything that's SKT related."
This is the second time that SKT has become embroiled in a DMCA takedown controversy. Back in 2015, an account called "SpectateFaker" uploaded some League of Legends footage of Faker (hence the name of the stream). However, the footage in question seemed to be positioned as an attempt to mock Faker personally. At the time, streaming platform Azubu issued a DMCA takedown against SpectateFaker, but soon it became clear that Riot Games was the company that had the right to issue such a takedown, not Azubu.
Although Azubu had signed a contract with SKT over the rights to stream the tournament footage in question, Riot Games owns LoL gameplay content. After appraising the situation, Riot Games ended up issuing a DMCA after all, and they explained their position on the issue in a lengthy post. The quote from that story heard 'round the internet was Riot's statement about being against "bullying" — which is what they deemed the SpectateFaker stream to be, given its seemingly mocking intent.
The legal waters amateur commentators swim in are muddying. SKT's statement makes it clear that they would prefer to see Riot Games remove any content that could potentially damage their players' reputations and their teams' bottom lines — that is to say, any content that mocks their players and racks up views that could otherwise go to the SKT channel.
And, indeed, Riot already took a stance against "bullying" in their previous takedown, so if you're out there uploading videos that make fun of individual LoL players, you might be in trouble. But, again, it's all up to Riot Games to determine which types of mockery are acceptable, since they have made clear that they're only willing to pursue takedowns in very specific cases.
When reached by Compete, a Riot representative said the company the company has no comment at this time. I expect this issue will continue to come up for them as pro LoL players navigate the experience of being celebrities ... since, of course, every celebrity can expect a cavalcade of dedicated haters and mockery.