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Here's what the feds have to say about paid YouTube content
Here's what the feds have to say about paid YouTube content
July 11, 2014 | By Mike Rose

July 11, 2014 | By Mike Rose

As part of Gamasutra's ongoing investigations into the explosion of the video game YouTuber, the Federal Trade Commission has told us that those YouTubers who are paid by publishers to advertise their games must provide clear, obvious disclosure in videos.

Disclosure of payment in YouTube videos is a particularly hot topic at the moment, as some high-profile YouTubers believe it is adequate to bury a single sentence disclosure about any payments from video game companies in the text description of a YouTube video.

But having discussed the topic with the FTC, an independent agency of the U.S. government that fights for the protection of consumers, it would appear that this simply isn't enough.

"Generally speaking, if an advertiser or a marketer is paying someone to write favorable reviews, the reviewer needs to disclose that," says Mary Engle, associate director for Advertising Practices at the FTC, "and that disclosure should be clear and conspicuous, and should be upfront and easy to see where the viewer won't miss it."

"What we say is that it should be easily seen or viewed... It should basically be unavoidable by the viewer."
She adds, "What we say is that it should be easily seen or viewed (or heard in the case of audio) by the consumer or by the viewer. It should be made within the endorsement message, and within the review. We don't prescribe particular words or phrases that need to be used, but some people might say 'this is a compensated review,' or 'I got this free to try.'"

Given that embedded YouTube videos do not display the description of a video below them, this means that burying disclosure in the description is not acceptable.

"It should basically be unavoidable by the viewer," Engle adds -- and if it's not, the FTC can step in to investigate the YouTuber.

"The FTC can conduct an investigation to look at what's happening, and determine whether we think there is a violation of the FTC act," she says. "We certainly welcome any complaints -- a lot of our investigations are the results of tips from consumers or reporters."

"If we do bring an investigation, it may or may not turn into a case where the company would be under order," Engle concludes. "It varies a lot with the particular facts."

What percentage of YouTubers are actually taking money from publishers to talk about games? Gamasutra has investigated the movement in-depth.

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Emile Tynures
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This only covers "[paid] favorable reviews", something which is generally agreed to be horrific. What did the spokesperson for the FTC say in regard to general gameplay or coverage being paid for? Or was that question not asked?

E Zachary Knight
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This has come up before, not for YouTube but for general product reviews, that if a company compensates you in any way, whether the product for free, money or some other gift, that must be disclosed in that product review whether it is good or bad.

Emile Tynures
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I more meant in regards to the form of disclosure required. AFAIK current FTC guidelines require disclaimers without location of form specified (and at least one person has said that these must be written disclosures) while here we see clear guidance for paid reviews (specifically) for an in-video disclosure.

Jennis Kartens
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One issue that rised when John Bain started arguing with these institutions: YouTube videos are most of the time not region restricted. Outside of the US, no one cares about FCC, FTC or whatever "laws". Our laws are different. Additionally, the internet is always evolving while said institutions are limping behind, trying to give them a proper frame...

That said, I am happy about this statement since it is helpful for the audience.

Irrespective, I think YouTubers simply should treat their medium with fairness. That extends to insight about campaigns. Though these kind of things can become complicated given the various contracts. It all isn't limited to the the few high ranked players in the game...

Emile Tynures
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"John Bain started arguing with these institutions", that's intriguing, got a link?

As far as I am aware the videos have to apply by US laws as YouTube, Google and most of the infrastructure are based and registered there. Localisation and legality on the internet is a murky area.

Xavier Sythe
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Look at his replies to comments on the article about Guns of Icarus.

Kaze Kai
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Wow, this wasn't what I thought it would be. Who knew any part of the government still cared about the people instead of viewing them as a necessary evil. :V

Paying someone for a good review instead of earning it yourself is kind of skeezy anyway so making it even harder to deceive people can only be a good thing.

James Yee
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Yeah but what counts as a "Review?" For instance are WTF Is... videos reviews? Does Angry Joe have to state whether he paid for his copy of every game he reviews? I can't think of Polygon stating whether every game they review is a free review copy or not.

Also lets plays or sponsored events are mentioned here either are are some of the biggies people have been complaining about.

Dave Hoskins
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They all take bribes, ever since the history of reviews! Oh you want a free copy do you? :)

Bart Stewart
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While I appreciate Ms. Engle's response, there is an enormous difference between "should" and "must."

Should YouTubers (and anyone else, regardless of nationality) disclose when they're getting money from someone whose product they're reviewing? That seems reasonable, and encouraging it not very objectionable.

MUST U.S. YouTubers disclose any possible case of receiving money from the vendor of a game they review?

That is a very different question. If people "must" do some thing, what is the statutory authority for taking legal action to enforce that law?

What provision of what law, exactly, covers YouTubers expressing opinions about games over the Internet? If the FTC has regulatory power over that, is there some other form or medium of expression over which they can't/don't/won't assert control?