Let’s Play! But Who Wins the Copyright Battle?

von Felix Hilgert

The concept of “Let’s Play” is simple: Gamers make a video of themselves while playing and comment on the event like a TV reporter during a telecasted sporting event. Live-streams and video clips of game performances produced this way are uploaded to video platforms accessible for the interested public. The market for Let’s Play videos is booming. While in Germany the online audience of Let’s Play users is growing constantly, there are already entire dedicated streaming channels for Let’s Play content in the US, on which registered users follow extensive gaming sessions.

However, from a German and European copyright point of view, this market raises some issues and uncertainties that have yet to be addressed in case law.

Legal protection of content

Computer games enjoy copyright protection. The individual works of art as graphics, music and user interfaces are protected as a “personal intellectual creations” in accordance with the German Copyright Act (§ 2 UrhG). Besides, the overall composition of the computer game is an audiovisual or similar work and is therefore granted copyright protection under § 2 para. 1 no. 6 UrhG. The publisher’s proprietary rights of use and exploitation of the game also include the sole authority to release the work in intangible form, e.g. on internet platforms accessible to third parties.

Recently, it has been discussed to grant the players of such games a “neighbouring right of the performing artist” pursuant to § 73 UrhG and give them the right to record and publicly release their performances, especially on internet platforms like YouTube.

However, there are rights of third parties on the copyright protected content of Let’s Play videos. Consequently, anyone publishing such content online needs the rights owner’s consent ...

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