Illustration: Jason Torchinsky, Image: YouTube

As Formula One and its race teams continue trying to outwardly promote and expand esports ostensibly to support F1, things aren’t going as smoothly in the already established sim-racing community online. YouTube users can’t seem to escape allegedly erroneous copyright claims by Formula One Management on their gaming videos, which some rely on as an income source.

When a video comes down, so, too, can that YouTuber’s income, even if the error is later corrected.

“My channel is actually my only revenue at the moment, as I’m trying hard to make YouTube my career,” Kieran Blacklock, who goes by TheKie25 on Youtube, told Jalopnik in a message on Twitter. Blacklock, who has just under 15,000 subscribers, said he tries to stream gameplay from motorsport simulators like Gran Turismo Sport most nights, but copyright claims from FOM came in two nights in a row after his streams finished this week.

A race on the Gran Turismo Sport Monza circuit.
Image: Super GT (YouTube)

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“This then leaves my channel looking like it’s had no content for two days and blocks any possible revenue from the streams that would been generated through ads, which for me is little frustrating,” Blacklock wrote.

As ultra-realistic simulators like iRacing and Gran Turismo Sport, and esports in general, continue to rise in popularity and accessibility, so do the communities around them. But sim streamers were hit en masse this week with one of the less rosy realities of it all, as copyright claims and subsequently blocked videos from Formula One Management seemed to swell past the usual numbers.

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That’s judging by the reaction of the gaming community on Twitter, at least. Videos and streams resembling F1 footage were being removed from YouTube by the truckload, many of which didn’t even contain imagery of actual F1 cars—multiple gamers told Jalopnik that their streams of Gran Turismo Sport on tracks F1 happens to frequent were taken down as well.

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Some gamers hit by the wave of copyright claims got a message from YouTube almost immediately after streaming an online race, they told Jalopnik and posted about on their Twitter accounts:

Due to a copyright claim, your YouTube video has been blocked. This means that your video can no longer be played on YouTube.

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The source of the copyright claim was Formula One Management, according to screenshots of the notices.

F1 hasn’t seemed to address the matter publicly yet, aside from tweet from the F1 2018 game’s account Tuesday saying that the day’s YouTube issues should be resolved “soon, if not already.” When tweeted about it further by a user, the account said the next day that the claims “should have been rescinded.”

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Representatives for F1, F1 2018 game developer Codemasters, and YouTube didn’t respond to Jalopnik’s questions and requests for comment about the situation by the time this story published. Neither did the developer of Gran Turismo Sport, Sony Interactive Entertainment, whose game was included in some of the videos hit by copyright claims.

But the issue wasn’t isolated to a single day, as it might have seemed on Twitter, according to YouTubers like Blacklock and professional endurance and sports-car racer David Perel, who said they’ve been hit with copyright claims before.

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Perel uses his channel and streams more as a way to talk about his transition from simulators to real race cars and the differences between the two, and told Jalopnik via email that he doesn’t rely on YouTube for his “bread and butter.”

“That being said, every time it happens I do get quite irritated because it messes with the flow of my content output,” Perel, who’s been a sim driver for nearly two decades and a racer in real cars for five, wrote. “It’s also a bit embarrassing when you receive messages from regular viewers asking why your video is down again.”

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Perel said Formula One Management “often claims rights on live streams” he does that contain current F1 tracks, like his Gran Turismo Sport streams, and that the flagged videos are taken down within minutes of the stream. It takes about five to 10 days for his counterclaim to go through, he said.

Perel thinks the stream copyright claims originate from YouTube’s notoriously thorough and sensitive copyright bots rather than Formula One Management itself, since the bots gobble up videos that potentially infringe on copyrights soon after they’re published. Blacklock isn’t sure what’s behind the claims, but thinks it’s an automated system as well.

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“What’s strange about the videos FOM [has] blocked is that the game is GTSport [instead of something like the official F1 video game] and no F1 cars were in any videos,” Blacklock, who said he’s had three videos taken down so far, wrote.

“However, the gameplay camera I use in game is a bumper camera that doesn’t show any parts the car, and the three videos they blocked were all at Monza on GTSport driving the exact same car, which is a old Group C Le Mans car that actually has very high power output, so I feel their system is just flagging any content that resembles a slight match to real-life F1.”

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Blacklock said he’s also been hit by GTWorld a few times for potential copyright issues, but that those problems were solved more quickly than the ones he’s had with Formula One Management.

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F1 videos and YouTube have been synonymous with problems up until the past couple of years, when its new owner, American company Liberty Media, stepped in and brought the series up with the times. Before Liberty Media took over, F1 almost entirely shunned the internet—barring people and teams from posting videos from test sessions, and neglecting online video platforms to the point that third-party YouTube uploads were the primary source for footage from races. F1 had those videos taken down almost as soon as they were up.

But the series has embraced the internet more in recent years, actually putting footage on its YouTube accounts instead of leaving that to third parties it would eventually block, streaming races on its own online platform, and allowing more videos on social media.

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Internet friendliness is a must for F1 now, too, with its huge esports push. The series hosts the F1 Esports Pro Series championship, where, last year, anyone with a copy of the F1 2017 game could sign up to attempt to qualify for F1’s official esports series. The best drivers each year are signed by F1 teams for the esports Pro Series championship, which had its inaugural season last year.

That’s what makes this whole situation seem so strange, on the surface. F1 has an online presence and a big investment into esports now, yet the copyright claims and video takedowns feel extremely reminiscent of old F1—even if the claims and takedowns aren’t completely F1’s fault.

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The takedowns have impact, regardless, on both the YouTubers affected and on F1’s attempts at fostering an esports community. Blacklock hasn’t had any interaction with Formula One Management due to being unable to find contact information, but has hopes that the issues will be fixed soon because of their negative impacts on the sim-racing community and on himself.

“For me, this is really concerning, as this is a career choice I’ve taken,” Blacklock wrote. “As games become more realistic in physics and visuals, it’s worrying how [often] these issues may happen.”

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As a racer and developer himself, Perel said fixing the problem isn’t as easy as complaining directly to Formula One Management. It’s a “confusing situation” that stems from both F1 problem and a YouTube problem, he thinks, and he said it doesn’t help F1’s efforts to build a gaming community.

“I just hope it can be solved quickly,” Perel told Jalopnik. “As more people start to stream Gran Turismo Sport (it’s still a growing segment), there will be more and more videos taken down due to a) too broad a claim list and b) an ever-developing YouTube copyright bot.”

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Update: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2018 at 9:50 a.m. ET: An F1 spokesperson responded to Jalopnik’s request for comment, saying there was “a temporary issue with some settings which inadvertently served claims against some user content.”

“This was immediately noticed and quickly rectified,” the spokesperson said.