After giving its legion of creators effectively days to delete all their existing clips over Digital Millennium Copyright Act concerns, Twitch’s DMCA hell is getting even deeper. Today, one of the platform’s higher profile musicians has started streaming on YouTube instead, following the suspension of his channel.
The musician is Herman Li, one of the co-lead guitarists for metal band DragonForce. Li and DragonForce have been streaming for years, and the metal band — a favourite for many fans of Rock Band and Guitar Hero for their punishingly difficult Through the Fire and Flames — were huge supporters of music livestreamers on Twitch.
When Twitch streamers and creators were hit with a wave of DMCA notices earlier this year, DragonForce publicly announced that streamers could play anything from their Maximum Overload, Reaching Into Infinity and Extreme Power Metal albums without worrying about DMCA claims.
However, Li’s profile, and the fact that he was largely playing his own music, doesn’t seem to have helped the guitarist avoid the DMCA hammer. The guitarist announced this morning that Twitch had suspended his channel, so he was moving over to YouTube instead:
My Twitch channel is currently suspended. Today I will be streaming on YouTube instead athttps://t.co/BKSH6bI73W
Starts 1pm PT / 4pm ET / 8pm UK.
Another new guitar incoming today! pic.twitter.com/kjwZn8L08i
— Herman Li (@HermanLi) October 27, 2020
The whole thing is a bad look for Twitch, which is coming under increasing pressure from all sides. The platform was already facing heavy criticism for the nuclear-esque solution last week, when creators found out via email that some of their clips had been automatically removed by Twitch — but Twitch couldn’t tell them which clips had received DMCA takedown notifications.
It is INSANE that @Twitch informs partners they deleted their content – and that there is more content in violation despite having NO identification system to find out what it is. Their solution to DMCA is for creators to delete their life's work. This is pure, gross negligence. pic.twitter.com/mhdXU5lEc5
— Devin (@DevinNash) October 20, 2020
This content was identified and deleted for you, in accordance with its obligations under the DMCA. Going forward, Clips that are identified as having copyrighted music will be deleted without penalty to help ensure you do not receive DMCA notifications from rights holders.
— Twitch Support (@TwitchSupport) October 20, 2020
The short delay in DMCA takedown processing effectively meant creators had only days to delete, in some cases, years of content. Some creators found a solution by reuploading their clips to YouTube, relying on Google’s Content ID system to identify which clips were in violation. Other members of the Twitch community built their own workarounds, and former Twitch engineer Justin ‘TheGunrun’ Ignacio linked to these creations to help streamers mass-delete all their VODs.
Use this to mass download all your vods: https://t.co/xZvooHHTWm
— theGunrun (@theGunrun) October 20, 2020
Use this to download your clips: https://t.co/shCcrMkCsP
Use this to delete your clips:https://t.co/zRXG0fX8oI (select all)
— theGunrun (@theGunrun) October 20, 2020
Twitch launched their own music tool called Soundtrack earlier this year, but the music industry has accused the platform — and Twitch’s parent company Amazon — for not requiring users to acquire mechanical or synch licenses for the music. “We are also deeply disappointed that Twitch continues to allow and enable its streamers to use our respective members’ music without authorization, in violation of Twitch’s music guidelines,” a letter from major American music publishers and organisations, including the SAG-AFTRA screen actors guild, said.
Twitch responded to the letter, saying that Soundtrack was a fully licensed service, and that they complied with all valid DMCA notifications, but that only seemed to aggravate the music industry further, according to Variety.
“Twitch continues to turn a blind eye to the same users repeatedly violating the law while pocketing the proceeds of massive unlicensed uses of recorded music,” the chairman and chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said. “And Twitch’s claim that it responds to takedown requests it considers ‘valid’ fails to show good faith with music creators. Further, Twitch’s shifting of its responsibilities to artists who use the platform is certainly not the act of a company that genuinely wants to partner with creators.
“That’s why a broad coalition of organisations have united to call Twitch out on continuing to make available unlicensed recordings and compositions on its platform.”
Twitch’s biggest problem is the lack of a system that helps identify and inform creators of DMCA notifications. The platform’s required to act on DMCA notifications to maintain its “safe harbour” status. Safe harbour is necessary for platforms to protect themselves from copyright infringements of its own users — provided the platform acts upon takedown notices when they receive them, acknowledges that they’ve done so, and acts in ‘good faith’ when handling these claims.
The good faith element is a key legal factor here, because the music industry has directly claimed that Twitch has done everything but act in good faith:
We are further concerned that Twitch continues to host and widely make available unlicensed music on its platform despite the company’s announcements, most recently in June 2020, that it would remove such unlicensed music. Twitch appears to do nothing in response to the thousands of notices of music infringement that it has received nor does it currently even acknowledge that it received them, as it has done in the past…
Further, we are concerned by your responses to questions regarding licensing made during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on July 29, 2020. We note that you failed to confirm whether Twitch has acquired any licenses to make copies of musical compositions or digital performances of any sound recordings on your platform. You also failed to state what action Twitch is taking to prevent unauthorised copies and performances.
As an example of the discrepancy, CNN Business reported in August that the RIAA had sent more than 1,800 takedown notices to Twitch in June alone. Twitch, meanwhile, had only issued 710 DMCA notices to users since 2017 before its first major round of mass deletions that same month.
Twitch has been relying on a system called Audible Magic to detect copyright music during VODs, and you can see this being used on any old Twitch videos. If you’ve seen a section of a past broadcast or VOD muted because of copyrighted music, that’s Audible Magic at work. But it’s not as advanced as the machine learning-powered Content ID system on YouTube, or some of the systems available to the music industry today that can detect infringing content during a livestream.
With YouTube, content creators can at least work through an appeals system. Those tools don’t exist on Twitch right now, and consequently a lot of major channels and streamers have begun disabling the ability to create clips from their channel as a way to protect themselves. Twitch’s backend doesn’t even give creators the potential to hide or unlist existing VODs and clips, which would have at least been a useful halfway step. And Twitch has no appeals process, despite it being a mandatory feature on other streaming and social media platforms. Such an option would have undoubtedly helped Li and other streamers playing and creating their own music live.
It’s all a reminder of how the global copyright model remains totally unequipped to deal with a generation of streamers and online-only content creators. And while the status quo remains, suspensions like the ones against Herman Li are likely to be far more common. The music industry isn’t happy, and until that’s rectified — or laws are changed — a lot of creators are going to get caught in the crossfire, whether they own their own music or not.