Twitch’s past three weeks have been bleak, to say the least. Late last month, the company abruptly purged thousands of streamers’ videos and advised them to delete all remaining clips in advance of a massive music industry DMCA crackdown—one it had known about for months, but failed to adequately warn streamers about until it developed rudimentary tools to aid them in deleting their entire histories. Today, Twitch published a lengthy apology letter, but it did little to quell fury that’s once again at a boiling point due to copyright claims and muted VODs stemming from in-game sound effects and clips that streamers have already deleted.
Twitch’s apology summed up what’s happened so far and firmed up a number of details—including the fact that Twitch began receiving thousands of DMCA notifications per week in May of this year, after having only received 50 or so per year total in previous years—before getting to the heart of the matter:
“You’re rightly upset that the only option we provided was a mass deletion tool for Clips, and that we only gave you three-days notice to use this tool,” the company wrote. “We could have developed more sophisticated, user-friendly tools awhile ago. That we didn’t is on us. And we could have provided creators with a longer time period to address their VOD and Clip libraries—that was a miss as well. We’re truly sorry for these mistakes, and we’ll do better.”
Twitch also committed to developing additional tools that will hopefully grant streamers more granular control over their recorded content, audio, and reviewing/contesting copyright claims, but it did not provide a release date for those much-needed features. It went on to try and explain why it doesn’t just obtain music licensing rights like Facebook has for its livestreaming platform, but while it said that those solutions won’t work for Twitch in particular, it stopped short of explaining exactly why.
“The current constructs for licenses that the record labels have with other services (which typically take a cut of revenue from creators for payment to record labels) make less sense for Twitch,” the company wrote. “The vast majority of our creators don’t have recorded music as a part of their streams, and the revenue implications to creators of such a deal are substantial.”
It is unclear why Twitch and Amazon, one of the biggest companies in human history, could not simply make up the revenue deficit instead of letting it fall on the backs of streamers. Twitch went on to say, however, that it’s “open-minded to new structures that could work for Twitch’s unique service” but “we must be clear that they may take some time to materialize or may never happen at all.”
Twitch could have said most of this much sooner, but it did not. In the meantime, it put ample resources into other communications efforts, like a promotion for its upcoming online convention, GlitchCon, that mostly served to incense streamers even further.
This comes during an especially turbulent week on the DMCA front. In the past few days, streamers have reported getting targeted by copyright claims and Twitch’s automated systems for music and sound effects in games, as well as clips they’ve already deleted. One streamer, MichalRonin, had his audio auto-muted for broadcasting a wind gust sound in World of Warcraft.
“Only music I’ve had on stream was in-game WoW music, played by the game itself,” MichalRonin wrote on Twitter yesterday. “Yet I’ve got ‘muted audio’ on the latest VOD, apparently in Sen’Jin village.” He then posted a screenshot that mentioned a “Medium Wind Storm with Gusts, Whistles and Low Rumble” sound effect from the Hollywood Edge Sound Effects Library.
Other streamers posted about similar experiences with tracks from Final Fantasy XIV, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Destiny. One streamer, Emily “QueenE” Krumlinde, finds her experience with FFXIV’s music especially concerning, because she was listening to a cover, but Twitch’s system was unable to differentiate.
“The messed up thing about the FFXIV mute is that it’s not even muted based on the original in-game music,” Krumlinde told Kotaku in an email. “It’s muted because of a YouTube cover artist making a cover of the original song. The content ID system can’t notice the difference and is flagging the original version of the song as being the cover artist’s song. So here me and every other streamer playing FFXIV are getting muted and risking potential DMCA strikes, not because of the actual music used in-game, but because of a YouTube cover artist.”
Streamers are concerned that, if Twitch’s systems are going after sounds and songs from games, music industry entities can issue copyright claims due to those sounds’ presence during streams. Iain Cole, a streamer who says he does “broadcast production tech stuff” for Twitch itself, said it’s already happened to him. Yesterday, he posted a copyright claim email from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry along with the following message: “You know the weird disco area on the Tangled Shore in Destiny? Yeah be careful folks! This music that was created for the game might get you in trouble!”
In response, Bungie community manager Chris Shannon said on Twitter that the developer is “looking into this,” but when Kotaku sent an email asking for more information, Bungie did not reply.
To get around this, Krumlinde said she’s mulling muting in-game music from now on, but believes that would “hugely impact the immersion of a lot of games, which means I’d probably just avoid streaming those games entirely instead.” She also pointed to MichalRonin’s dilemma as an example of why even manually muting in-game music while live might not be enough.
MichalRonin is weighing his options.
“I’ll probably experiment with lowering in-game audio [and] playing copyright-cleared music over the ambience to make it harder to identify by the AI that handles the flagging,” he told Kotaku in an email. “A more extreme option would be to redirect in-game audio so that it’s not being streamed at all, but it’s an obvious detriment to the viewers. Or just stay away from potentially unsafe games [altogether].”
But games and individual songs are not all Twitch’s systems are going after. Streamer and Bethesda associate community manager Devann “Lady Devann” McCarthy sleuthed out that her channel got suspended due to a brief Jay-Z clip that plays during the remix of Adventure Time’s “Bacon Pancakes” song that she uses as the alert sound that goes off when somebody subscribes to her channel.
“I was betrayed by a five-second clip of the ‘Bacon Pancakes’ remix that contains Alicia Keys singing ‘New Yoooorrrrrrkkkk!’ in it,” she wrote. “I’ve had that alert for six years now, but I guess it’s time to get a new one and rebrand away from bacon pancakes.”
Other streamers have received strikes for clips they’ve already deleted, and they’re at a loss. Streamer JasonParadise deleted all of his clips on October 23, the day Twitch resumed regular DMCA processing after holding back thousands for a handful of months.
“What the fuck was the point of deleting all of my VODs/clips back on October 23rd? The strike on an old clip (that no longer existed) came in ten days later,” he wrote on Twitter.
In an email, he told Kotaku that Twitch emailed him notice of a copyright strike against his channel on November 2. He has no idea what exactly was in the offending clip, because Twitch did not tell him. The company did, however, eventually DM him to let him know it was “a mistake that would be rectified.”
“Knowing they were fighting for us would be nice,” he said to Kotaku. “The new Twitch ‘Soundtrack’ isn’t paying artists as need be. It really feels like Twitch isn’t willing to put out the money to keep us safe. Comparing this to Facebook Gaming and the deal they made with record companies hurts.”
Other streamers, including Tom “Syndicate” Cassell, a Twitch partner with three million followers, have reported similar issues. Kotaku reached out to Twitch for more information, but as of this publishing, the company did not reply. However, on Twitter today, it addressed these concerns, saying that “a small number of Creators (20) mistakenly received strikes in this instance” and that “we’ve since removed the strikes and contacted them directly.”
Streamers, however, still have questions, and they wish Twitch would be more transparent about elements of this situation that actually matter. Why, for example, is it possible to access deleted Twitch clips in a database, and what does that mean for copyright claims going forward? Why was one major Twitch partner, Jaryd “Summit1g” Lazar, able to receive three copyright strikes and avoid getting a suspension while others were not? Despite Twitch’s apology note, the overall stakes remain the same: Streamers know that they’re in danger of receiving copyright strikes that could lead to their channels being suspended or banned, but not when, why, or for how long.
This does not bode well for the future. In its apology, Twitch copped to moving too slowly and not preparing tools streamers could use to mitigate the ravages of DMCA claims ahead of time. As some streamers have pointed out, however, another storm is on the horizon: An overwhelming number of streamers watch YouTube videos and other content that could be considered copyrighted—whether by creators or YouTube itself—during streams. Much of the platform’s extremely popular Just Chatting section is made up of these sorts of streams. Will Twitch prepare itself and streamers for an eventual reckoning from that industry, or will it once again turtle up into a reactive shell, refusing to act except when acted upon? Streamers are desperately hoping for the latter, but only time will tell. Kotaku reached out to Twitch to ask about this issue, but the company did not reply.
In the meantime, this whole episode is taking a toll on streamers. Krumlinde pointed out to Kotaku that even if Twitch gives her better tools with which to contest copyright claims, “I’m opening myself up to a potential legal dispute in the court of California, which is something most of us have no way of affording.” JasonParadise, meanwhile, is fed up with all of it.
“It feels so hard to put energy into a platform that feels like it doesn’t care about their creators,” he said on Twitter. “Everything about this situation screams of Twitch’s lack of care. Their utter negligence. It’s disappointing AF. Yes, the laws suck. But could Twitch have done more? Absolutely. Every moment they waste is more community trust burned.”