Last week, Twitch, the popular streaming platform that is mainly (not solely) used by the video game community, made a very controversial decision and removed hundreds, maybe even thousands of videos from its platform due to DMCA copyright claims. The reason why this is so controversial is because they did so without notifying beforehand any of the streamers whose content would be affected, didn’t even state which of a streamer’s videos contained the allegedly infringing content, nor did they give anyone an opportunity to dispute or file a counter claim or give them time to remove the allegedly offending videos on their own. Twitch even acknowledged that they have not given anyone the option to dispute this decision or file a counter claim, and that because of this, the affected streamers are only receiving warnings instead of a full out copyright strike against their channel.
The only thing that the affected streamers received was an email from Twitch on October 20, informing them that certain content on their channel had been deleted due to a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) copyright infringement claim. This has left many streamers in the Twitch community frustrated and angry because not only do they not know which of their content was deleted, as well as what portions of the material contained the alleged infringing copyright. Because they had no way to challenge or dispute the claims, some streamers felt that their only option was to delete all of their videos, which for some contained as much as 600,000 clips, countless hours for some others, and was viewed as the destruction of their “life’s work.”
To those of you who are wondering how Twitch could have made such a drastic decision so suddenly, this occurrence isn’t too surprising if you’ve been keeping up with the news surrounding Twitch and music copyrights. Around June of this year, Twitch posted a bunch of takedown notices following massive amounts of DMCA claims over background music in streams. In early August of this year, several musicians and music labels posted a very vocal confrontational letter to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon (which owns Twitch) over what they perceived as a “willful blindness” to Twitch music royalties. To grossly oversimplify the issue, musicians / music labels felt that Twitch streamers were using their copyrighted songs in their streams, and doing so without a paid license violated their copyright. So they demanded some sort of copyright protection on the Twitch platform, and that Twitch/Amazon needed to either pay royalties to the musicians for the music used in streams, or shut down all of the streams that they believe violate their copyrights (maybe even both).
They do say perception is reality though, and if you were to ask an individual who streams regularly on twitch, they would probably give you a different perspective. As someone who watches streamers on Twitch on a regular basis, my own perspective is that whatever music that is being used is extremely minimal, mainly used in the very beginning while the streamer is setting up or waiting for people to join their stream; music is not a main, or significant, portion of the streaming experience. I personally couldn’t tell you the name or artist of a single song that’s ever been played by a streamer that I’ve watched because it’s such a short / insignificant part of the streaming experience. In short, it wouldn’t be so difficult to believe that people who watch Twitch streams come for the streamers, not for the music that plays in the background for small portions of the stream. Of course this isn’t speaking for all of the content that takes place on Twitch’s platform; again, this is just my experience in viewing streams on Twitch on a regular basis.
The DMCA added section 512 to Title 17 of the United States Code (which is the section of U.S. federal law that governs copyrights). 17 U.S.C. §512 requires that Twitch, once notified of a copyright infringement claim, must respond “expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing” in order to avoid being held liable for copyright infringement taking place on the platform. Of course, since this is the law that we’re talking about, the meaning of “expeditiously” is open to determination and differing opinions.
The overreaching handling of DMCA claims is growing as a much larger problem regarding copyright claims online. One of the biggest problems with how Twitch handled this is that it sent a clear message to its users, the people who drive its platform, that they will take the side of musicians and record labels above its own users, without even giving them a voice. Many people strongly disapprove with how Twitch handled this, with some calling it “grossly negligent.” Others hope that this doesn’t signify the beginning of Twitch handling copyright issues similar to how Youtube handles them.
While the issue of how to properly handle a copyright infringement claim is never an easy one, hopefully Twitch will learn a hard lesson from this and will take the time to develop a fair system of allowing and handling the dispute of copyright claims, which would hopefully notify streamers of which sections of their videos contain any alleged violations, as well as then allowing for streamers to dispute the claims or demonstrate how their use may fall under fair use.