Aggressive Nintendo copyright claims on YouTube push Breath of the Wild multiplayer modders into taking down mod

Last week was a thrilling one for the Zelda: Breath of the Wild mod scene: a year and a half after proposing the idea of a multiplayer mod (and with a $10,000 bounty to sweeten the pot), YouTuber PointCrow released the first public version of the mod. Shortly after, Nintendo filed YouTube copyright claims against several of PointCrow’s videos. This Tuesday, he announced on Discord that he was removing the mod’s download links while “in talks with Nintendo.”

“I have taken down the mods in this Discord as I am currently in talks with Nintendo. All I can share right now, please no speculation and understand that I will update you all as much as I can. [Thank you so much],” reads PointCrow’s full statement.

The celebrated launch and subsequent removal of the mod have given the Zelda modding community a case of emotional whiplash, especially with long-awaited sequel Tears of the Kingdom just a month away. “It’s hard to become excited for Tears of the Kingdom when the Zelda community is being nuked off YouTube,” PointCrow tweeted on Wednesday. 

Nintendo being litigious over the use of its games is nothing new, but the Breath of the Wild multiplayer mod’s case is unusual. High-profile YouTubers—PointCrow has nearly 1.6 million followers—are rarely involved in creating or commissioning mods themselves. PointCrow and Nintendo have not replied to a request for comment as of this writing. 

“PointCrow made it public that he would finance this for $10,000 and this is what Nintendo doesn’t wanna see,” says Breath of the Wild modder Waikuteru, who also runs a successful YouTube channel. But money isn’t the only factor here—multiplayer Breath of the Wild seems like it may be a particularly sticky subject. YouTuber Croton, who recently published a video using a separate local splitscreen Breath of the Wild mod, also received copyright claims from Nintendo on Wednesday.

After several years of making mods and Breath of the Wild videos, Waikuteru has dealt with some 500 automated copyright claims from Nintendo, but no strikes—an important distinction, as strikes can threaten a channel with complete demonetization or even deletion.

“The first claim wave happened in January 2022, and then I disputed and appealed them and got my videos back. However, Nintendo broke the YouTube guidelines and claimed videos that have already been resolved and claimed before, again. So I repeated the process, got them back, they claimed, etc. it was usually a 2-months gap between these occurrences,” Waikuteru says.

Dealing with copyright claims was a frustrating process, especially before July 2022, as videos that had been claimed disappeared for 48 hours and stayed demonetized for 30 days, even if the claim was resolved. YouTube then changed the system, making videos reappear instantly during the appeal process and re-monetized after just a week. Last year Waikuteru asked mod fans to band together to petition Nintendo to change its stance on mod videos.

Based on the events of the past week, that hasn’t happened. Still, thousands of videos of emulated Breath of the Wild remain on YouTube, alongside countless more of Nintendo’s other games modified or enhanced via emulation—the company clearly picks its battles. And the mods themselves remain online and uncontested on sites like GameBanana, free of YouTube’s corporate-friendly copyright claim system. It seems that there’s little risk in modding Nintendo games, but advertising those mods in video form, especially if you rely on YouTube ads for income, is far more fraught.

“Honestly, when the first claim wave appeared, I was like ‘Oh well, 2 years [of modding] for nothing?!'” Waikuteru says. “I didn’t know at this point yet that getting back the videos is rather easy. It’s a complicated situation for sure. On the one hand, Nintendo is the original copyright owner, on the other hand we make new creations out of it and then we are the copyright owners of that new creation, Fair use here and there… 

“If Nintendo reads that, I would like to tell them the following: Because of our mods and videos, we are basically creating free promotion for the games, extending the life of the games, and also it results in more fans ultimately buying the games. Please take an example of other game developers that are even offering modding tools to their communities.”

PointCrow and the team behind the BotW multiplayer mod have not said whether the mod will be reuploaded, or if development will continue.