Tecmo vs. Family Guy’s DMCA Bots

Tecmo Super Bowl keeps proving its relevance. An innocent Bo Jackson cameo on Family Guy has thrust TSB into the contentious debate over intellectual property in the digital age.

The Family Guy episode, “Run, Chris Run” (May 15 2006), included Peter and Co. playing Tecmo Super Bowl and Double Dribble. Clips of Peter, Quagmire and Cleveland narrating NES classics instantly went viral. The TSB clip, of Peter running all over Quagmire with Bo Jackson, has garnered over 3 million hits on the Tecmo Super Bowl Facebook page alone.

Media empires such as Fox zealously guard their intellectual property, or IP. To prevent the proliferation of pirated Family Guy clips, media companies employ algorithms trained to sniff copyrighted material. Any videos suspected of copyright infringement are blocked and their uploaders are sent a violation notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). The copyright-sniffing algorithms are therefore called DCMA bots.

Family Guy inadvertently thrust Doubble Dribble and Tecmo Super Bowl into a raging debate over digital ownership and copyright abuse.

“Run, Chris, Run” pulled NES gameplay vids from YouTube. Peter’s Bo Jackson smackdown came from a video called “Bo Knows – crazy Tecmo Super Bowl run,” uploaded in 2006 by user numb3rtw3nty. Similarly, the Double Dribble clip was uploaded by user sw1tched in 2009. Family Guy producers took these clips, trimmed them for time, stripped away the soundtrack (an important detail) and overdubbed Family Guy voice actors.

Once the episode aired, Fox’s unleashed DCMA-bots on YouTube. A number of pirated videos of the episode had already surfaced, and they were rightly sent takedown notices. However, one of the clips flagged and blocked was sw1tched’s original Double Dribble clip, the very video Fox had “borrowed.”

The backlash against Fox was so loud that Seth McFarlane had to go into damage-control mode.

Fox worked to quickly remedy the situation. Sw1tched’s DCMA notice was indeed sent by an automated bot. Fox dropped its copyright claim, issued an apology and sw1tched’s Double Dribble clip went back online.

Everything’s good, right?

Not so much. As I mentioned earlier, Fox stripped the soundtrack from TSB and Double Dribble. They instead inserted original, 8-bit-styled music. Why? To skirt copyright. DMCA takedown bots rely primarily on sound (only secondarily on video). The bots compare YouTube audio to copyrighted material. Fox most likely changed the audio on their Family Guy episode to stymie DMCA bots run by YouTube, Nintendo or Konami. Fox skirted copyright and then sent an army of copyright bots to protect their non-copyright copyright.

*Head explodes*

The prime question of this fiasco, unlikely to be resolved, is who “owns” the a YouTube clip or Twitch stream? Does Konami, who made Double Dribble, own the IP on gameplay clips? Couldn’t Nintendo, who created Double Dribble’s hardware, also make a claim? What about a YouTube user like sw1tched who plays the game in their own way and records the video? Each has a viable claim to copyright.

The murky waters of the DCMA suggest Fox should have asked numb3rtw3nty for permission to use Tecmo Super Bowl in Family Guy[1].

It’s just the latest way Tecmo has proved its lasting and continual impact.


[1] We reached out to Youtube User numb3rtw3nty regarding Fox’s use of the Tecmo clip, but have yet to receive a response. We will update this article should we hear a reply.


Keith Good

Keith Good is a future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and 8-bit game geek. A perpetual optimist, he convinces himself every September that this could finally be the Cleveland Browns' year. He was once told to eff off by Tecmo great Kevin Mack. You can check out his other work at www.keithisgood.com and follow him on twitter @keithisgood.

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