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February 22, 2020
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No Man’s Copyright Dispute

by Matthew McCaffrey on 10/06/16 10:14:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Sony recently provoked controversy by flagging YouTube videos that discussed the leak of No Man’s Sky and how the leak might affect the release of the game. The commentators in question didn’t possess leaked copies of the game, and their videos contained only approved footage. Nevertheless, Sony suggested that its copyright was violated. It successfully removed the videos and their creators were banned from streaming on YouTube. This lead to embarrassment when Steven Thomas was prohibited from live streaming NMS in order to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Thankfully, Sony has now removed the strikes on the relevant YouTube accounts. Yet although it has resolved the situation for now, Sony’s actions have still drawn the accusation that it tried to use its intellectual property protection to censor potential critics, whom it treated as pirates.

I won’t speculate about Sony’s underlying motivation for imposing the strikes or for removing them. Instead, I want to make a point about the incentives created by intellectual property protection in gaming. Whatever its motivations were, economically speaking, Sony’s actions were both dangerous and entirely predictable. Yet as it turns out, they’re a direct result of intellectual property ownership.

It’s common to hear talk of companies abusing the copyright system for personal gain, or using it in ways that weren’t originally intended by lawmakers. Yet the fact is, copyright is and always has been used as a form of censorship. The nominal justification for intellectual property protection is that it encourages innovation, but the evidence is clear that IP actually hinders innovation by creating monopoly privileges for its owners. These privileges are barriers to entry that force competition out of the market while at the same time undermining the incentive for IP owners to create new content. Regardless of its intentions, copyright enforcement prevents the dissemination of information.

This is only the most recent case of developers using IP law to censor the community. I’ve written about similar problems in gaming before (here and here). Sadly, the problems seem to be getting worse in the gaming industry just they are in many other sectors of the economy.

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