What Europe's New Copyright Law Means For Twitch And YouTube

If you live in the European Union, or if you’re an avid fan of European politics (and who isn’t?), you’ve probably heard about Article 13 in the past handful of months. And if you heard about Article 13 from someone on the internet, that person probably didn’t have kind things to say about it.

Article 13, which was approved by the European Parliament today, includes a so-called “Copyright Directive” that makes platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube liable for whatever is contained in the content users upload to those platforms.

Fair play to the broader strokes of these laws: Creators deserve credit for their work, and tech giants are badly in need of regulation. In reality, though, Article 13 doesn’t really accomplish either of those things.

Companies will either have to pay rights holders (read: usually other big companies) for any copyright-infringing content, or—and this is the more likely outcome - they’ll have to meticulously scrub uploads of any content that might cross the line. On sites like YouTube and Twitch, where creators regularly create videos and streams using everything from video game footage to emotes of copyrighted characters, this could signal a sea change.

In the months leading up to the vote, YouTube and Twitch put out uncharacteristically aggressive statements that took aim at Article 13. In a letter published in December, Twitch warned that it “could be forced to impose filters and monitoring measures on all works uploaded by residents of the EU,” which would require streamers to “provide copyright ownership information, clearances, or take other steps to prove that you comply with thorny and complicated copyright laws.”

The company also warned that streamers will “very likely have to contend with the false positives associated with such measures, and it would also limit what content we can make available to viewers in the EU.” In other words, even if you’re streaming in the US, you could lose European viewers thanks to Article 13.

Last week, Twitch also called Article 13 a “bad copyright reform” and posted a video of streamers speaking out in favour of freedom of expression:

In a similar letter, YouTube put forth an even more explicit condemnation, stating that “Article 13 threatens hundreds of thousands of jobs, European creators, businesses, artists and everyone they employ,” because its passage would turn hosting regular people’s content into a bottomless abyss of risks.

“The proposal could force platforms, like YouTube, to allow only content from a small number of large companies,” wrote YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. “It would be too risky for platforms to host content from smaller original content creators, because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content.”

Twitch, YouTube, and other companies like Google are framing this as an attack on creators, and these companies, as the self-anointed stewards of an open internet, now seem like protectors of the people. But, really, this is about money. Article 13 is a threat to these tech companies’ bottom lines.

Luckily for them, it’s also a threat to their large, professionally vocal user bases, which these companies can now marshal to their cause. I’ve seen a handful of small streamers express hope that Twitch will just pay the licensing fees because it cares so much about its community. That seems unlikely, but I’d love to be wrong.

The version of the Copyright Directive that passed today mentions “safeguards on freedom of expression” in the form of exceptions for memes and gifs as well as less stringent rules for start-up platforms. Still, Article 13 has streamers worried.

Popular streamer (whose face is a possibly even more popular emote) DansGaming said on Twitter that “Twitch’s future in EU is now uncertain,” and Swedish streamer (and edgelord-in-chief of Twitch’s biggest troll community) Forsen said during a stream today that Article 13 has him considering a move to the United States.

Article 13 won’t kick in right away. The countries that comprise the EU must now accept Article 13 and its associated articles and directives, leaving room for amendments and other changes. It won’t officially go into effect until 2021.


Comments

    Most ‘creative content’ online involves cashing in on others creative content to make it actually interesting without paying the original creators a dime. So I can see where the EU is coming from.

    Imagine a twitch stream without someone else’s music, artwork and games to make it interesting. All those other creators are helping a single individual make money without getting paid.

    Even IRL streaming crosses the line as filming someone without their permission is against the law in most countries unless it is for journalistic reasons.

    A lot of ‘creative content’ is a copy of a copy of a copy. It isn’t creative and sure isn’t original.

      Well this is one of the most uninformed things I have ever read.

      Twitch streamers increase exposure for games in an increasingly crowded and noisy market - it's basically cheap marketing that increases sales.

      So basically you've posted a lot of nonsense.

        You could go as far as to say for small businesses it is essentially free advertising. PUBG is a good example of an average game that took off because it understood how social media and influencers in the gaming space work.

          There's tons of examples, Goat Simulator, I Am Bread, Getting Over It, Stanley Parable, hell even Minecraft were all hugely popular due to Youtube and Twitch.

      You seem to misunderstand what the law is about. The law is not about making sure that content creators are liable for copyright, it is about the companies that provide them with the ability to express themselves being liable for any copyrightable content shown on them. It's the antithesis of the US DMCA laws which protect hosting sites from being liable for the content hosted on them.

        I think conceptually the law is meant to deal with blatant IP theft. But like most of these laws (including the DMCA) the concern is that it's too broad and has ramifications that the legislators haven't taken into account.

        By moving the responsibility onto the platform you basically force their hand to crack down on content. At least in the past they could say "we made an effort" if they're facing costs they're going to be far more stringent. Anything that even whiffs of copyright infringement will likely be blocked or removed as quickly as possible. Which will likely affect genuine, legal content as much as dodgy stuff.

        I just hope that the law is a living document that will see rapid reform/alterations to cover the flaws that are already in it.

          it also demonstrates the lawmakers' complete ignorance of the internet beyond the major players.

          If someone made a post containing copyright infringing material on some niche enthusiast forum 20 years ago (because there are message boards around that are that old), the site owner would technically be liable for that infringing content as per the letter of this law.

      When you complain that "most ‘creative content’ online involves cashing in on others creative content to make it actually interesting without paying the original creators a dime", I'm wondering what you think of the Disney movies "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Pinocchio", "Bambi" (arguably), "Cinderella", "Alice in Wonderland", "Sleeping Beauty", "The Jungle Book", "Robin Hood", "The Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast", "Aladdin", etc? Don't they do exactly the same thing?

      It’s also transformative, which is a growing area of Copyright law. Taking an idea, and reshaping it in unexpected ways has artistic merit.

        Correct, there's plenty of legitimate uses for someone else's copyrighted material and there's no way to regulate this online.

    Legacy media corporations have been masturbating furiously over the idea of getting a law like this passed for years. That it passed in the EU is a huge win for them, and disastrous for anyone who has ever made anything that's been uploaded to the internet without their say-so.

    Laws like this will now pass in the rest of the world, and it essentially turns the internet into a medium for content consumption only.

    A complete, unmitigated disaster. Every MEP who voted for this bill should hang their heads in shame.

    Considering 6 years ago Warner brothers straight up admitted they were abusing false DCMA take downs and didn't particularly care this is going to open the flood gates to asshats abusing copyright laws.

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