Why are Twitch streamers receiving DMCA takedown requests?

This past weekend, Twitch streamers have received a large number of DMCA takedown requests for alleged music copyright violations in clips that were created in the past three years.

Twitch, currently one of the largest video game streaming sites, is recommending that streamers delete any clips that have received takedown requests. 

But why is this happening? And why now?

What is the DMCA?

The main goal of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is to protect creative expression, technology and other works that are covered by copyright while continuing to allow platforms (like Twitch and YouTube) to operate without being sued for infringement by their users. At its core, the DMCA “safe harbor” provision was written to balance the interests of  IP owners, content hosts and Internet service providers.

What’s a takedown request (a “strike”) – like the things that streamers are receiving?

A DMCA takedown is specifically when content is removed from a website or a platform at the request of the owner of the copyright holder. It is, quite literally, requesting the taking down of infringed content on a site or platform in which the content is in violation of copyright protection. For example, if a photo is being used without permission or not per the requests of the photo’s copyright holder.

In this situation, Twitch already has a system in place that is supposed to automatically mute segments of streams that include identified copyrighted music. Clips, however, are 60 seconds or less and viewers can create the clips along with the streamers. There is no automatic system to monitor potential copyright infringements in clips that we know of to date. 

The easiest answer: streamers shouldn’t play copyrighted music without a license. It doesn’t belong to them. 

Even more innocently, though, streamers may accidentally run afoul of copyright law. When streamers play video games, watch videos on YouTube, TikTok or other platforms along with their audiences – ignoring that the basic act itself is probably infringing – the original content they are playing may have licensed music in the background. The license probably does not extend to the streamer’s additional use.

Some games are built specifically on top of licensed music, like Just Dance, Beat Saber, Rock Band, Guitar Hero, etc. Streaming these games isn’t feasible without the licensed music included in the game itself, so checking the specific terms of the licenses provided by those game developers and publishers is key.

What are a streamer’s options currently?

Right now, the easiest option is to delete clips but there is no simple way to do this en masse.

If a streamer feels like a clip has been misidentified with a takedown, the recipient can issue a counter-notice. But a counter-notice comes with its own risks.

Why is this happening now?

There could be any number of reasons. It could be the record executives are homebound and only recently discovered Twitch. It could be the RIAA wanted to allow the platform and streamers to grow and be put into a more vulnerable position before pouncing. It could be that they spent the last three years developing a sufficient crawler to work on automating this process. but in reality, it doesn’t matter. The rights are the same and streamers should take note.

Brandon J. Huffman

Brandon is the founder of Odin Law and Media. His law practice focuses on digital and interactive media, entertainment, internet related issues and crisis communication. He serves as general counsel to the International Game Developers Association and is an active member of many bar associations and community organizations. He can be reached at brandon at odin law dot com.

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