Last month hundreds of content creators on the streaming platform Twitch received DMCA takedown notices from their host at the same time, telling them that content on their channel was potentially in violation of copyright law.
Twitch has since summed up the incident in their own words on their blog. Typically, DMCA notices are supposed to provide the recipient with information about their options for submitting a counter-claim or seeking retraction. But, as the post admits, “the only option provided [to streamers] was a mass deletion tool for [their] clips, [and] we only gave [them] three days notice to use this tool.”
If they didn’t, they would risk losing their channel (and in many cases, their full time income.)
The videos in question could span thousands of hours of content, which could not realistically be deleted in the time allowed.
So, what you're saying is all potentially copywritten music clips/VODS on my channel have already been identified and deleted, so I don't need to delete anything right now?
I need clarification because I don't have the time to go through 4 years of clips.
— Kate (@katestark) October 20, 2020
Twitch has pretty much looked the other way from the unlicensed use of music on its user channels throughout its history. That’s generated more than a little resentment from groups like the Recording Industry Association of America in the past, and as the site only continues to grow, a massive wave of pressure from the labels has forced the site’s hand
The music industry wants Twitch to arrange for their streamers to use audio under the terms that websites like YouTube use. That includes a diligent Content ID system.
But instead, Twitch has built an in-house solution to this whole mess: Soundtrack, which offers a “rights-cleared music” from “independent artists.”
A spokesperson from Twitch supplied this statement to The Verge: “The music from Soundtrack is put into live streams and does not end up in VODs, and therefore we and our partners agree that sync licenses are not needed for Soundtrack.”
(The music industry doesn’t see it that way though.)
Not only that, but streamers still have a lot of questions about the new expectations on the site. In one case, a streamer had to completely stop their feed because their video was picking up music from an unrelated source.
Someone can even be flagged for playing a game that uses copyrighted music on-stream. Even playing a Star Wars game that makes use of the movie’s copyrighted soundtrack is a risky move. (After all, nobody wants to take any chances with Disney’s infamously aggressive legal team.)
In their apology, they expressed a desire to explore “potential approaches to additional licenses,” but said that “the current constructs for licenses that the record labels have with other services […] make less sense for Twitch.”
Securing a given song’s licensing rights is a pretty implausible task for a young streamer, since major copyright holders don’t generally negotiate on small-scale terms. Twitch, on the other hand, has been owned by Amazon since 2014. Amazon just happens to already be one of the biggest copyright holders in the world, and obtaining the rights to the songs that are in high demand shouldn’t be a prohibitive issue for one of their companies.
But ultimately this debacle isn’t solely their fault. The DMCA is an old law— old enough to drink, even. The people who wrote it could not have possibly accounted for the rapidly expanding new media industry. Under pressures like these, something has to give.