A host of online video creators, particularly those in the hugely popular video-game community, have been left reeling after changes to the way YouTube parent Google Inc. and multichannel networks handle copyright infringement claims. Many are wondering whether there’s any value in signing a contract with a large multichannel network at all.

It might be baffling to some that millions of people log in daily to watch others play – and comment on – video games, but log in they do, and advertisers have jumped on the opportunity to reach the predominantly young, male audience that likes watching game-play videos.

Machinima, a West Hollywood network that focuses on video-game content, boasts 2 billion monthly video views across its network. And Felix Kjellberg, a comedic video-game reviewer who goes by the moniker PewDiePie, is YouTube’s biggest star – a 10-minute clip he posted three months ago has had more than 19 million views. Kjellberg is contracted with Culver City’s Maker Studios and reportedly earns a whopping $4 million a year from ad revenue.

The rub is that those ads are sold against images of games in which YouTubers almost never hold the copyright and many feature music with licenses held by another party. And the law is beginning to shift against creators using that content without permission.

“Case law is moving to greater copyright protection for video games,” said Erik Syverson, an intellectual property attorney at Raines Feldman in Beverly Hills, who said video-game copyright litigation is a booming practice for his firm. The landscape is still in flux, and Syverson acknowledged that many creators could argue their videos fall under the fair-use doctrine since there are still gray areas when it comes to the gaming space.

On their own

In the past, multichannel networks, or MCNs, were not subjected to infringement claims submitted through YouTube Inc.’s automated Content ID system, which helps copyright holders find and remove allegedly infringing content from the platform.

But late last year, YouTube, in conjunction with MCNs, extended Content ID to MCN creators and enacted a new system in which the vast majority of creators were designated as “affiliates,” meaning they had to start handling copyright disputes themselves.

In most cases when a claim is filed through Content ID, all monetization from a video is immediately directed toward the person or entity submitting the claim. If there’s a dispute, no one makes money until it’s resolved. Creators can only resume making money from the video in question if they successfully challenge the claim.