Recently a discussion came up among friends. Some of us like to record our gameplay and put it up in YouTube, own3D, etc.

Problem is, some of us are getting copyright strikes/claims, on audio as well as video.

Bear in mind, the videos getting the claims and strikes are not manipulated in any way, except resized to 1080p or 720p. No external music, sound or video has been added.

So, what do I pay for when I purchase a game? Don't I "own" the content I paid for? Or have I only paid for the service, i.e. the ability to be able to play the game and only that?

I'm not interested how streaming platform (i.e. Youtube) and their copyright system works. That's not the issue here.

  • 11
    Readers, keep in mind, we're a Q&A site and not a discussion forum. So if you plan to respond to this question, please do so with a concrete answer to the question, not with conjecture or how you feel about the state of game ownership.
    – Grace Note
    Feb 17, 2011 at 16:01

3 Answers 3


When you purchase a game from the store, you tangibly receive a specialized piece of plastic with software on it, and some packaging. Everything else is intangible: rights, a license, guarantees, etc.

Typically, and I can't stress that word enough, what you get in layman's terms is a license to use the software on the disc for personal use in the privacy of your own home and a guarantee that the hardware disc is free from defects in workmanship. You do not receive any copyright rights over the content, nor does the license permit you to duplicate or redistribute the content (well, it does to some extent, usually for backup and for actually installing and running the software).

When you record yourself playing a game and then post it on YouTube what you're doing is duplicating a portion of the audiovisual intellectual property in the software and redistributing it in a different form. That's why it's a copyright violation, and that is why the license you are granted as an end user doesn't permit it.

  • Generally it's a great answer. However the last paragraph seems to be bit off. Game is not an audiovisual product, it's software. Under some interpretations, unless the license explicitly allows so, you don't own right to the output of the software. That's the interpretation some games' distributors use to take down gameplay videos. However, whether output of software is copyrightable by software's author is a gray area, so it's not obvious that they have a legal right to do so.
    – vartec
    Nov 21, 2012 at 13:36
  • @vartec My explanation is evidently not getting into the details of the state of copyright law, but if you're interested in seeing why this is the case check out Stern Electronics, Inc. v. Kaufman, a video game copyright case in ’81 wherein a federal appellate court reject the argument that I think you're trying to make (re: audiovisual content is not "fixed" or "original"). scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=7204019639108685629
    – coreyward
    Nov 21, 2012 at 17:12
  • @vartec If you care to read a little less legally-encumbered text recounting the early legal battles of copyright in video games, check this link out: digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/…
    – coreyward
    Nov 21, 2012 at 17:15

Don't I "own" the content I paid for?


Or have I only paid for the service i.e. the ability to be able to play the game and only that?


Though you probably can "quote" portions of the game for reviews etc. under fair use laws (which may or may not be applicable in your country). The amount (i.e. length of the video) will be relevant here. A 2 minute clip might be OK, but a 15 minute one without commentary might not be.

  • Pretty much every game you purchase (physically) has a manual, and it will contain at least a page and generally more of the License Agreement that you agree to when you install/play the game. It will explain your full rights, which are basically what ChrisF states above. Feb 17, 2011 at 18:13
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    If you bought a game via Steam, you also only have the "right" to play the game until they shut down the servers - and for those who don't think Steam could ever shut down: Microsoft shuts down music servers
    – Cyclops
    Feb 17, 2011 at 21:17
  • Why should not 15 minutes be OK? It is not like the whole game will be covered in this period.
    – hlovdal
    Feb 18, 2011 at 5:18
  • @hlovdal - I should perhaps have added "might" into that part as well. "Fair use" is a grey area. If you are adding commentary then 15 minutes might be OK, where as just straight game play perhaps isn't.
    – ChrisF
    Feb 18, 2011 at 8:34
  • @Cyclops valve have stated that if they were going to shut down their servers they have a way to release all your games from server checks first - of course you still have to trust them in this point as well
    – jk.
    Feb 18, 2011 at 9:11

This is a difficult question to answer, and is probably better handled by lawyers who know how to interpret law-ese.

I understand the subscription idea and everything, but if we're paying for only a user-fee, and not an actual ownership of user-rights, then why are we allowed to make working backup copies to protect our investment, because legally, we are, which is why software like Alcohol 120 and Daemon Tools have never been banished from the market. Is it that the legal usage rights of software have evolved from ownership of something into nothing but a subscription?

Because you all may not realize something, but when you buy a computer with Microsoft Windows installed, you are not buying a subscription to use the software. You actually have the right to resell or transfer the keycode along with the case that the computer was originally put into. I remember going to a computer store who rebuilds computers, and they told that they are legally able to sell that keycode for Windows XP taped onto the case so long as the copy is always attached to hardware mounted within that case. They said the keycode must remain on the case, but you can do whatever you want to the computer itself, sell it, give it away, rebuild and entirely new system, whatever, so long as the keycode remains on that case and is only used for the windows installed on the computer within that case. That doesn't sound like a user-fee, it sounds like you own something.

However, and this is conjecture, but I expect that if it were ever to go before a court of law, the ruling would find that purchaser does indeed purchase and own something, and has a right to privately sell that something so long as they also forgo all their rights to use that something after the sale is made. Probably wouldn't work the same for services like Steam though sense everything is provided via their service under their user agreement. But this giving me a user-agreement that tries to claim I don't own anything after-the-sale could probably be argued in court. But like I said, this is conjecture.


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