Opinion: How Twitch's new copyright policy was gravely mishandled

A lot of conversation, along with grinding and gnashing of teeth, happened yesterday following Twitch's series of announcements. The one that caused the most stir was the decision to flag archived videos for copyrighted audio content, essentially banishing those clips into silence. Some people were outraged and began crying out that this was exactly what they feared from the rumored YouTube acquisition. Others pointed out that one simply can't take clips that aren't theirs and embed it over their gameplay clips.

Those points are largely irrelevant to the larger point that Twitch has handled this execution incredibly poorly and is facing a backlash from its user base that it may never recover from.

First and foremost, Twitch did its users wrong by putting this edict into effect without any sort of warning. The right thing to do would have been to give advance notice to users and give them the opportunity to save their clips locally and make proper edits. It would have even given those users a chance to upload their clips to YouTube. While they would have been flagged just the same, YouTube at least offers the chance to acknowledge the content and allow it to remain in place, in exchange for waiving the rights to monetization. YouTube wouldn't silence the clip, rendering it unwatchable. Twitch has had a reputation for doing right by its users, but they did them a grave disservice by retroactively hammering these clips from out of the shadows.

While that's a huge issue in itself, Twitch also put itself in a corner by exercising the exact same faulty system that YouTube uses to scan for its third-party copyrighted content. Twitch is relying on AudibleMagic software to scan for music clips. This has created a logistical nightmare, since it doesn't measure for external circumstances. It's a "shoot first, ask questions later" deal and it's exactly how Valve ended up in the embarrassing position of having its own videos flagged for using their own music. At best, it's a logistical nightmare for Twitch to have to sort out. At worst, it's a practice that completely alienates its user base.

That leads into the other problem with this system. The intent is to prevent the use of unauthorized music in streams. The idea in itself is fine, because it prevents some unscrupulous types from making a profit off a Top 40 soundtrack that somebody else owns. It's when videos are getting flagged for in-game music that it becomes a major problem. The entire purpose of Twitch is to stream video games as they are, yet video games ranging from Grand Theft Auto 5 (licensed soundtrack) to Super Mario Bros. (from notoriously trigger-happy Nintendo) are now subject to be slammed with copyright claims. It's the kind of thing that ruins the purity of Twitch's original purpose, which is for somebody to sit down with a video game and share their experience with others.

Several entities, like game publisher Deep Silver and music provider OC Remix, are fine with people using their content for live streaming. That doesn't stop videos from getting flagged by the AdRev machine and the biggest issue is the horrific appeals process. The YouTube appeals process has given fits to content providers like Angry Joe and Total Biscuit, because they're almost always slanted towards whoever made the claim. The appeals process for YouTube can take months and there's no indication from Twitch that theirs will be any friendlier or even-handed. And if it's true that Google/YouTube are on the verge of acquiring them, there's no reason to believe it will be.

Some will argue that archived streams are rarely viewed, but I challenge that assertion. The world of competitive gaming makes archived videos a necessity. People often go back and view archived streams of events like The International, Evo, or the League of Legends Championships. Twitch itself hosted a massive E3 stream. What happens when these videos inevitably get flagged and go silent? These archives become useless and a window into the past is closed, possibly forever.

"Slippery slope" is often a lazy argument to try and justify any position, but it has to be applied here. It's true that this rule does not apply to live streams, but how long will that last? Twitch has put itself at the mercy of entities like the RIAA, so how long until they buckle under pressure to police live streams for copyrights? What happens if these rules get imposed at major events, like Evo or The International? Maybe it won't happen, but do you feel safe making that bet right now?

It's disheartening to see what's occurred over the last day, just because of how sloppily and cavalierly Twitch has gone about making this happen. Twitch was built on a community of competitive gamers, speed runners, content creators like Ari "Floe" Weintraub, and plain old folks just wanting to play a game in front of their friends. The work they've built over the past several years has now retroactively been tarnished. It's not unlike stepping outside to find a gorgeous mural defaced with mustaches and derpy eyes. Twitch's community deserves better than this. They deserve better from a company they once trusted.