After Massive DMCA Takedown, Twitch Streamers Are Deleting Thousands Of Clips

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After Massive DMCA Takedown, Twitch Streamers Are Deleting Thousands Of Clips
Image: Twitch

Over the weekend, many streamers discovered an unpleasant surprise in their inboxes: an email from Twitch saying they’d received one or more copyright strikes on clips from their streams. If streamers receive three strikes, they risk an indefinite ban. The problem? The offending clips were not recent, but streamers hadn’t received any previous indication that there were ticking time bombs in their archives.

After numerous streamers reported late last week and over the weekend that their clips had received the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) treatment thanks to copyright claims from an entity claiming to represent the Recording Industry Association of America, Twitch clarified what happened in a post on Twitter.

“This week, we’ve had a sudden influx of DMCA takedown requests for clips with background music from 2017-19,” the company wrote. “This is the first time we have received mass DMCA claims against clips. We understand this has been stressful for affected creators and are working on solutions, including examining how we can give you more control over your clips.”

Twitch has a system in place that automatically (though inconsistently) mutes segments of VODs that include copyrighted music. Clips, though, are a different animal: small, 60-second or less segments of streams that viewers can create by clicking a button in Twitch’s video player. Even when a VOD is deleted, clips made of that VOD persist by default, though streamers can choose to delete individual clips or all clips associated with a particular stream. It’s not the most elegant process, and the system doesn’t work well when a streamer’s fan base has made thousands of clips over the years.

On top of that, streamers now don’t know which clips to delete, because a company or organisation could target anything featuring music streamers don’t technically own, and, per DMCA rules, Twitch would have to take it down and give them a strike. So, for now, some streamers are deleting all of their clips, just to be safe. Or at least, they’re trying to.

“Have talked with multiple Twitch staff all telling me my best option is to delete all of my clips ever,” Fuslie, one of the first streamers to shed light on this issue, said on Twitter. “On top of it being near impossible for me to delete >100,000 clips, the creator dashboard isn’t loading any of my old clips. How am I supposed to protect myself here?”

On a platform as fast-moving and tunnel-visioned as Twitch, clips aren’t just bite-sized shareable snack food. They also represent rare mementos of times gone by. Streamers are deleting them, but it’s a high price to pay: “I’m willing to do anything to keep my channel, even if it means deleting all my clips and memories from the past years,” said Fuslie.

“I feel so helpless right now. I’ve built this channel up for 5 years and to potentially lose it all so fast to something like this would be devastating.”

Many streamers expressed similar sentiments. Others reminded their fellow streamers, that this is far from the first time copyright claims have wreaked havoc on Twitch. In 2018, a whole host of popular streamers received suspensions over the same song. Earlier this year, multiple political streamers got suspended over what turned out to be a false DMCA claim from a fake legal organisation. Twitch ultimately apologised for the latter.

Unclear or false DMCA takedowns aren’t limited to Twitch, either. “Confused because I’ve already been navigating the minefield that is DMCA on YouTube for years,” said YouTuber LaurenZSide on Twitter. “How did so many people think that Twitch was just immune for some reason?”

At first glance, the solution to this problem seems obvious: Streamers should just stop playing copyrighted music. After all, it belongs to other creators, who DMCA rules at least theoretically exist to protect. But the reality of the situation is more complicated than that. For one, it’s become common and accepted for streamers to watch YouTube videos, TikToks, and things of the like alongside their audiences. This can involve licensed music, albeit often as a distant background element. Does this fall under fair use? Even if it doesn’t, does it hurt anyone? These are all questions raised by the modern streaming ecosystem, in which everything—not just background music that streamers use to fill space—exists in a grey area.

“A lot of creators panicking about DMCA,” said ex-Twitch and current Mixer streamer Gothalion on Twitter. “If it makes you feel better, any publisher/dev could DMCA you for monetising their game if they feel like it. Our field isn’t secure (for the most part). The only thing you own is you.”

Of course, most companies do not zap streams out of existence, because they appreciate what essentially amounts to free advertising on a massive scale. Given that music is not the focus of streams in the same way games often are, you could argue that artists stand to benefit less than game makers. But individual artists rarely crack down on streams and videos. Most of the time, it’s gargantuan entities like record labels or the RIAA who go after streamers. To hear some experts tell it, more of these big organisations are now paying attention. This makes sense; after all, Twitch has grown tremendously during the pandemic and attracted a great deal of mainstream attention.

“Universal Music Group and Warner have invested in this company that’s monitoring every stream on Twitch,” said video game and entertainment attorney Noah Downs during a stream hosted by Twitch director of creator development Marcus “DJwheat” Graham. “They have the ability to issue live DMCAs. They just haven’t done it yet. It’s super important to note that that level of enforcement hasn’t even come through yet—where you’re live and you’re getting taken down live for playing music. Right now we’re just seeing clips and VODs.”

There are other issues tied up in this, as well. Some games, like Just Dance, which has a big streaming scene, don’t work without licensed music.

“I’ve been streaming a rhythm game for 5 years,” said popular Just Dance streamer LittleSiha on Twitter. “The music is in the game. So… I’m screwed in this situation.”

At this point, we could be looking at a total Twitch sea change, or this could just be another one-off salvo. Streamers are preparing for the worst by deleting clips and switching over to copyright-free music, but some have also taken to discussing the ways that DMCA rules were made at a time when the internet was not the colossal, ever-churning remix machine that it is now.

“The notion that a repeat infringer loses their account is fine in theory but it can’t be this devoid of human judgment,” said esports lawyer Bryce Blum on Twitter. “It also must be said that the value of a popular Twitch or YouTube channel in today’s environment simply wasn’t contemplated when the DMCA was written. These aren’t just accounts—they’re the work product of years of personal investment, dedication, and sacrifice by the creator. A rigid system made a lot of sense when it was created and still does in some contexts, but the DMCA needs to be re-evaluated in light of the modern influencer climate. This is big business, and it deserves more consideration than a judgement-free three strikes and you’re out.”

Comments

  • This is a pathetic cash grab from the RIAA (if it is them) – no one watches these streams or videos because of the music they have in the background.
    There is no loss of income for the copyright holder.If anything this is free promotion of their music.
    This is a calculated attack on fans and they are biting the hand that feeds them.
    People should mobilise and boycott these dinosaur record companies that refuse to move with the times. Easier said than done but it would send a clear message.

    • It’s also bizarre in that … some of these creators have no actual way of responding to these requests. Twitch the platform doesn’t really enable them to deal with clips from three years ago that might be infringing. It doesn’t have that functionality.

      Not to mention everyone who gets slapped down for misidentified background music in their games, or parts of their games.

      It’s an absolute and total mess.

    • They are issuing DMCA notices, not demanding compensation, so I don’t know where you’re getting the “cash grab” comment from.

      You may not like it but these record labels – just like any other copyright owner, have a right to protect what they legally own. You can’t just play any music you want in your videos and live streams for the same reason that movies, TV shows and even radio stations can’t play just any music they want. They need a license to use that music. Whether it’s intentional or not, at the end of the day you’re using someone else’s intellectual property without their permission and you can’t do that. This is especially true if you’re making money off your stream. This is why copyright exists. You can’t broadcast someone else’s music, even if it’s in the background, without their consent.

      The fault here lies with Twitch. They don’t have a robust enough system to check for this kind of material and also don’t have a system where creators can easily fix these kinds of problems when they arise. Twitch needs to address this asap.

      • Except it’s almost entirely incidental use. It’s not integral to the primary content of the program, and it’s almost impossible to imagine that the value of the program (or the value of the ‘offending’ content) has been effected in any way either positively or negatively as a result of this incidental use.

        It’s actually no different from crowd photos used in the media or even in advertising. You are not required to get individual permissions from all the people whose faces appear, they’re just considered background noise.

        In any case, the real villain here is the American DCMA notice companies whose business model is to fluff up their commissions from copyright owners by using algorithms to spam notices as widely as they can possibly get away with. For the most part individual copyright owners have no clue what these companies are up to and have very little incentive to keep them in check even if a large chunk of their notices turn out to be false positives and people doing completely legitimate business are harmed as a result.

        In particular, DCMA notices are supposed to be individually reviewed and only issued based “a good-faith belief” that the use of this material is unauthorized. It has been proven over and over again that DCMA lawyers have been electronically “signing” literally tens or thousands of these notices every day making it physically impossible for them to have a good faith belief about anything. Most commonly their notices are triggered and issued through entirely automated processes constantly crawling the net for random hits, hits that often share only a tenuous and coincidental similarity to the original work.

        • Except it’s almost entirely incidental use.

          It doesn’t matter if it’s incidental or not. They are still broadcasting the music without permission. That’s a copyright violation.

          It’s the same reason why some music in Smash Ultimate can’t be streamed. The rights holders have given Nintendo permission to use it in their game but have not given streamers permission to broadcast it, so they can’t play on those stages that have the offending music.

          That streamer made a decision to play that specific music during their stream. It doesn’t matter what kind of overall impact it had, the fact is it’s there.

          I don’t blame the rights holders for trying to protect their IP. Twitch needs better tools in place to help content creators manage these kinds of situations (it’s ridiculous that the creators can’t go back and fix or even delete video clips even if they wanted to).

          It’s actually no different from crowd photos used in the media or even in advertising. You are not required to get individual permissions from all the people whose faces appear, they’re just considered background noise.

          It’s very different from crowd photos, because someone’s face isn’t copyrighted. Even celebrity faces are not copyrighted. A music track is copyrighted. Completely different situation. You actually CAN’T use someone’s face in advertising without their permission either. Some celebrities for example have successfully won cases over companies who have used their likeness to promote a product or service – but that falls under a different law.

          In this case it’s the photographer that owns the copyright to the photo, so you can’t just take that photo without their permission and use it for something else.

          • But here’s the thing: developers do grant users the permission to play, and stream these games. Sometimes very explicitly.

            So now we’re in this weird scenario where buying the game — legally — doesn’t entirely give you access to stream it, which opens up a whole other can of worms.

        • Dont know why you are getting downvotes for this.

          The DMCA system is broken as companies regularly abuse it by using a scattergun approach.

          Just recently we saw sony abusing it to take down any and all content even indirectly related to the tlou2 leaks. They even DMCA’ed their own tweets

          DMCA is not used to protect Copyright, its used to oppress.

          • youre not wrong. but its still always good seeing a few streamers getting put in their place since they are some of the most entitled people on the planet, second only to instagram “influencers”. the system may be broken, but they know they are breaking copyright and just expect they should get away with it then flash that big shiny victim card when someone calls them out on it.

  • DMCA is just another capitalist tool. It very much doesn’t help individual creators or artists, but directly attacks other creators. It’s a mess and archaic and doesn’t belong in this modern world. Not without a vast overhaul. And even then, it’s really only used by billionaire corporations that don’t lose any money by the music appearing in videos on the internet anyway.

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