Twitch streamers love using background music they don't have the licensing rights for, and today the company brought the party to an end. Hundreds of streamers received emails from Twitch stating that videos in their back catalogs were in violation of copyright rules and were being deleted without an opportunity for appeal.
In the past, Twitch has provided users with warnings and allowed them to dispute claims. The company has recently been overwhelmed by an influx of takedown requests from copyright holders, however, and is escalating its actions by offering no grace period, instead deleting videos immediately in what it hopes will be a "learning experience" for users.
Tidal wave of copyright claims — In order to comply with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Twitch is required to honor in good faith any valid requests by rights-holders to delete content that violates their copyrights. The company is at a disadvantage to Facebook Gaming, which recently secured rights for streamers to use music from the major record labels. Twitch has introduced a portal where streamers can find some rights-cleared music to insert into their streams, but it's not nearly as comprehensive as what Facebook is offering. And the songs are automatically removed when a stream is saved for later viewing.
Background music is commonly used in streams to make them more lively, and unsurprisingly Twitch told Kotaku that it's been contending with "thousands" of notifications from music rights-holders. That's why the company decided to bulk remove content all at once rather than dragging out the process with appeals and risk causing more damage to its reputation amongst gamers. Unfortunately that means some of the videos may not have actually been violating copyrights but rather got flagged inadvertently.
Despite frustration from its userbase over the issue, and increased competition from other services, Twitch remains the largest platform amongst its peers with a whopping 91.1 percent of all hours spent on streaming platforms between July and September. Parent company Amazon recently introduced its own cloud gaming service called Luna that integrates directly with Twitch so gamers can stream their gameplay with a click of a button.
The global market for live game streaming was estimated to be $40 billion last year, and tech companies are eager to get a piece of the action. Twitch shares advertising and subscription revenue with streamers.
Who loses out? — It's kind of hard to understand why music labels aren't more relaxed about music featuring in game streams. So long as the music is playing in the background, with commentary and gaming audio playing in the foreground, it's not the main attraction that people are coming for. In fact, it's free marketing — viewers might like a song they're hearing and go find it on Spotify. But the coronavirus pandemic may be hurting revenue due to cancelled shows. And copyrights can be voided if the holder doesn't protect them.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has expressed displeasure with Twitch's lackluster response to takedown requests in the past, saying labels and artists deserve fair compensation.
Still, the only person who seems to lose out under the current circumstances is the streamer. Gamers risk losing their audiences if they receive too many copyright strikes and get deplatformed. Fortunately Twitch extended an olive branch today by not issuing strikes that could lead to account deletion.
Twitch says it's developing tools to help streamers mitigate these issues going forward. It would also be smart to try and follow Facebook's lead with licensing deals. The company is owned by Amazon, which already offers a popular music streaming service in Prime Music Unlimited.