Japanese YouTuber might be the first in the world arrested for posting gameplay clips

(Image credit: YouTube)

A man has been arrested in Japan's Miyagi prefecture on suspicion of violating copyright laws after he posted a video containing gameplay from the popular visual novel STEINS;GATE Hiyoku Renri no Darin (via Automaton). The Content Overseas Distribution Agency (CODA) announced the arrest and said the man had uploaded the video, which included the ending of the game, without permission from the rights holder Nitroplus, on top of which he had monetised the video and received ad revenue.

The same man is alleged to have uploaded other videos containing copyrighted content such as the anime version of STEINS;GATE and Spy×Family. CODA describes these videos as "fast content", part of a popular genre in Japan that condense down a given work, anything from games to TV shows to movies, often including captions and / or narration that summarise what's going on for the viewer. Netabare is its own category within this of videos that show and detail endings or plot twists.

CODA says the man has been uploading copyrighted content since 2019, and it acted after the copyright holders complained. In its statement CODA clarified that it is only acting on specifically "malicious" usages of gameplay footage, saying (via machine translation):

"In particular, the act of combining only the movie scenes of a game with a story and editing it so that the content of the game can be understood in a short time up to the ending, and posting it, or the act of extracting and posting only the ending scene has been viewed as a problem these days [...] This action was taken because the gameplay video of the game that was targeted this time was an extremely malicious example that matches the previous problem example."

CODA believes this is the first arrest in Japan related to gaming footage. There's no previous example anywhere that I'm aware of, so it may well be a world first.

There are of course innumerable gameplay videos on YouTube, but the nature of STEINS;GATE as a visual novel is the key thing here. Playing the game is more a question of reading through the game, and one can see why a "fast content" video of the experience could be seen as a 1:1 replacement for actually buying the game. 

The Miyagi Television Broadcasting station reported further on the case, naming the man as 52-year-old Shinobu Yoshida, from Nagoya. It says he was tracked by a "cyber patrol", which sounds more exciting than it probably is, and that the suspect admitted to the charges, quoting him as saying: "I knew it was illegal, even as I was doing it."

Technically, streaming or uploading any significant amount of gameplay footage to a video sharing site is potentially an act of copyright infringement, and companies have used copyright rules in the US and elsewhere to get unwanted clips taken down, such as when early footage leaks. With a few exceptions, though, game publishers leave the ecosystem of streamers and video creators to do their thing, even when they post full playthroughs. But as this case suggests, if copyright holders want to come after a particular uploader, the law will probably be on their side. 

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."