Twitch DMCA Purge Deletes Thousands Of Streamers' Videos

Illustration for article titled Twitch DMCA Purge Deletes Thousands Of Streamers Videos
Image: Twitch

It’s finally happening: Twitch is taking action against copyrighted music—long a norm among streamersin response to music industry pressure. Today, hundreds of streamers received emails from the company stating that videos or clips in their back catalogues had run afoul of copyright rules, resulting in deletion. This, it seems, is just the beginning.

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Something similar occurred with claims from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) back in June, but this time, Twitch isn’t taking any chances. Instead of simply informing streamers that they’re skating on thin ice per the rules of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and allowing them to take initiative—which could include disputing specific copyright claims—Twitch has straight-up deleted offending clips. In a mass email sent to streamers who, at some point in the past, had broadcasted copyrighted content, the company did not specify what it had deleted.

“We are writing to inform you that your channel was subject to one or more of these DMCA takedown notifications, and that the content identified has been deleted,” reads the message Twitch sent to streamers. “We recognize that by deleting this content, we are not giving you the option to file a counter-notification or seek a retraction from the rights holder. In consideration of this, we have processed these notifications and are issuing you a one-time warning to give you the chance to learn about copyright law and the tools available to manage the content on your channel.”

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So basically, Twitch is cleaning house and doing its best to get streamers to finish the job. This is not ideal for streamers, whose VODs and clips represent the totality of their work. Just like that, some of that material has vanished forever, and though Twitch has released new music tools to aid with future streams, the company’s email encourages them to delete additional content—up to and including using a new tool to unilaterally delete all previous clips.

“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,” business streamer and industry insider Devin Nash said on Twitter. “Their solution to DMCA is for creators to delete their life’s work. This is pure, gross negligence.”

“Count me among those that received a DMCA strike today,” said longtime Twitch partner Ellohime, encouraging fans to download clips of their favorite moments while they still can. “Sadly, the only safe answer seems to be ‘delete all old content.’ People who scrubbed their VODs previous to this wave of strikes didn’t avoid it. In-game music going forward is going to be a real issue. Help us, Twitch.”

“I seriously don’t understand why Twitch is so unable to provide documented reasoning as to what rules you break when you break them,” said Twitch partner Teawrex. “There is a giant throughline for years now of people not knowing why they are suspended, hit with a warning, and now what content is DMCA’d.”

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It appears, however, that Twitch has once again failed to effectively communicate the full extent of what is actually happening here. Going forward, this system of automated, anonymous deletion will not be the norm; instead, DMCA takedowns will be specific and live, rather than vague and part of a backlog that spans an indefinite time period. However, after the big DMCA kerfuffle earlier this year, Twitch paused its standard DMCA process to develop the aforementioned new tools.

What happened today, according to news streamer Zach Bussey, was the result of a backup at Twitch, which itself was a product of an enormous number of copyright violations across the platform, given that streaming with music in the background is the norm for streamers. “From what I gather, they were backed to the wall—and the previous DMCAs are going to be ‘grandfathered’ as a generalized notification (deleted vods/clips) as the only punishment,” Bussey told Kotaku in a DM. “But when the system starts up again on October 23, it’s open season.”

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Speaking to Kotaku in an email, a Twitch spokesperson verified that the company took this approach because it was dealing with “thousands” of notifications from music rights-holders. “Twitch is required to process these notifications and notify streamers and take action against repeat infringers by law,” said the spokesperson.

Twitch has also issued a statement: “We are incredibly proud of the essential service Twitch has become for so many artists and songwriters, especially during this challenging time. It is crucial that we protect the rights of songwriters, artists and other music industry partners. We continue to develop tools and resources to further educate our creators and empower them with more control over their content while partnering with industry-recognized vendors in the copyright space to help us achieve these goals.”

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Twitch is changing. In the short term, this means growing pains that, for many streamers, are proving agonizing, in no small part due to Twitch’s communication issues. In the long run, streamers will have tools to mitigate future situations like this, but as ever, it’s important to ask who’s really benefiting from any of this. Arguably, artists—who already barely make any money from people listening to their music online—were getting free advertising from streamers playing their music. However, instead of evolving with the times in a way that might benefit artists, music labels—not artists—continue to employ draconian methods of cracking down so as to retain control.

Twitch’s new systems mainly kowtow to this control, rather than offering streamers real flexibility. Streamers can now delete all of their clips at once—something they need to do, sure, but it’s still a misery. Streamers also now have access to rights-cleared music via Twitch’s new “Soundtrack by Twitch” feature, but it’s curated by Twitch, meaning that after big companies limited streamers’ options, a different, singular big company is now in control of what little they can do. Is this just how the music industry works? Yes. Should it be, especially in an age when remixing and transformative content are what’s driving art and culture forward—and, in fact, that is the entirety of what streaming is? That’s the far more important question.

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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.

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DISCUSSION

Doesn’t literally all video game content on Twitch contain copyrighted music?