Jonathan Stahl is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) with a minor in American Public Policy.
On July 9th, 2013, the eve of the largest American fighting video game tournament, tournament organizers received a message from Nintendo of America, owners of the 2001 GameCube best seller, Super Smash Bros. Melee.  The letter explained Nintendo’s intention to prevent the event from being held. In the end, after intense blowback by fans on social media and gaming news sites, Nintendo reversed its decision and granted the Evolution 2013 tournament permission to host and stream the event.  Although the tournament was a smash hit and the Melee stream garnered a record breaking 134,000 simultaneous live viewers, the message from Nintendo remained a stark reminder to video game streamers that their ability use video game content to entertain viewers is ultimately at the discretion of the video game publishers under current copyright law.
The current Copyright Law of the United States dictates that copyright violation occurs when one “publicly performs” copyrighted content without a license.  The code explains that public performances include not only displaying copyrighted content in public to a substantial number of individuals, but also disseminating electronic copies of the content. With these copyright protections in place, video game publishers have legal authority to ban public tournaments and online video makers from featuring content from their games. Given the explosive popularity and profitability of video game live streaming and uploading onto game-sharing sites, the legal issues of copyright and video game footage has become a salient discussion in recent years.