Twitch has been around for a long time, which makes the Amazon-owned platform's recent issues with copyright claims seem a bit surprising and overdue. Nevertheless, streamers with audiences of all sizes experienced a massive uptick in Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices a few weeks ago—Twitch's short term solution in most cases was to delete any infringing clips without first letting streamers make counterclaims. Communication about the issue from Twitch has been slim until today, with Twitch making a public apology that many streamers see as too little too late.
"Creators, we hear you," says Twitch at the start of today's statement. "Your frustration and confusion with recent music-related copyright issues is completely justified. hings can—and should—be better for creators than they have been recently, and this post outlines our next steps to get there."
Promising to be transparent both with the events of recent weeks and with its plans moving forward, the statement carries on. "Until May of this year, streamers received fewer than 50 music-related DMCA notifications each year on Twitch," the company says. "Beginning in May, however, representatives for the major record labels started sending thousands of DMCA notifications each week that targeted creators' archives, mostly for snippets of tracks in years-old Clips."
This account indeed tracks with the issue many Twitch streamers were dealing with by early June: thanks to a wave of takedown requests filed by the RIAA, many users found themselves threatened with permaban notices for their next violation. These requests were by no means limited to recently uploaded clips and did not point to the video(s) in question, leaving many longtime streamers in a position where finding infringements was nigh impossible. The alternative—mass deleting clip archives—can be devastating to channels.
"We were as surprised by this sudden avalanche of notifications as many of you were," Twitch's statement reads. "We also realized that we needed to provide streamers with more educational programs and content management tools to help you deal with this unprecedented number of notifications coming in all at once."
Twitch goes on to explain that the warning emails and mass deletions in October were part of its solution to the rush of requests in May, and does admit to fault on its part for not making its recent communication clearer. "We hear your feedback about how frustratingly little information we provided, and we should have made that warning email a lot more informative and helpful."
As for deletion and clip management, Twitch accepts blame there as well: "We could have developed more sophisticated, user-friendly tools awhile ago. That we didn't is on us."
Apologies and promises of forthcoming tools aside, Twitch's advice for the near-term is blunt: "if you play recorded music on your stream, you need to stop doing that" immediately. Later on in the statement, the company takes a casual tone in explaining more specifics. "If you're unsure whether you own all the rights [to playing music on steam], it's pretty likely you don't," reads one section. Twitch also advises streamers to "do a ctrl+f (Command+f on Mac) search" in the End User License Agreements (EULAs) in games to find the sections relevant to streaming audio rights.
In fairness to Twitch, games with copyrighted audio do typically include that information with the EULA. For example, Harmonix's new DJing game Fuser has a lengthy guide specifying exactly how and where streamers can safely stream and archive their mixes. Twitch also points out that some titles (like Fortnite and Control) have in-game options for muting copyrighted music. Streaming the Ashtray Maze without the music is a compromise, but it's an easy out.
The big issue, though, is that the scale and severity of this problem proves that it's not one that should fall solely to streamers and game developers to solve for themselves. This is hardly an issue that's confined to Twitch's gaming audience, either—as Kotaku senior reporter Nathan Grayson points out, Twitch's "Just Chatting" is the streamer's largest segment and is "almost entirely streamers interacting with content that could be considered copyrighted[.]"
On Twitter, the replies to Twitch's statement are full of pointed questions from streamers, many of whom feel there are issues the company still hasn't adequately addressed. "So I'm an IRL streamer right, we pretty much stream OUTDOOR," writes Joey Kaotyk. "And whenever we go outdoor, cafes, downtown, popular areas... areas/stores will be playing music. We are pretty much fucked. Yeah? Yep."
Others have chimed in with concerns about publicly accessible archives of deleted clips still attracting takedown claims and the issue of rights holders and musicians still having their clips automatically flagged. Especially as it concerns edge cases, the solutions Twitch does roll out for these music takedowns over the next few months may prove to have larger implications if takedowns for live, unarchived streams and for infringement of other kinds of copyrighted material start to rear up.