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

Twitch opting to police copyrighted audio content isn't the problem in itself, but the manner in which they went about it is a betrayal to their community.

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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.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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From The Chatty

  • reply
    August 7, 2014 11:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Opinion: How Twitch's new copyright policy was gravely mishandled.

    Twitch opting to police copyrighted audio content isn't the problem in itself, but the manner in which they went about it is a betrayal to their community.

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      August 7, 2014 11:10 AM

      Thanks for this, Ozzie. I'm glad to see you addressing how this is a problem with in-game music, not just licensed music or those who listen to streamed music (which is against Twitch's TOS).

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      August 7, 2014 11:13 AM

      BTW, the owner of Twitch replied here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2cwfu2/i_am_twitch_ceo_emmett_shear_ask_me_almost/cjjorrh

      W/ regard to 2 hour chunks:


      Our research prior to launching the feature indicated that almost no highlights were longer than 2 hours, and we were concerned about abuse of the tool. It's clear that we underestimated the demand and need for a solution here, and fortunately we have 3 weeks to figure one out. Expect changes here soon.

      It has disproportionately large impact on certain communities (speedrunning most obviously) and we're very concerned about making sure that every community on Twitch has a good experience.

      W/ regard to content id:

      Hey Cosmo, I understand your feelings here. We have absolutely no intention of flagging songs due to original in-game music. If that's happening (and it appears it is), it's a problem and we will investigate and try to fix it.

      W/ regards to your last question, why Twitch:

      Because we care about you and your viewers, and we want every broadcaster on Twitch to be protected from potential liability. No matter how remote you might feel the issue is, we aren't willing to run the risk someone's life gets ruined over this.

      PS: I don't think your VODs are being flagged right now, but I realize that doesn't help anyone else getting caught in the crossfire.

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        August 7, 2014 11:20 AM

        Future plans: increase the scan resolution so that we don't have to flag 30 minute chunks at a time, identify why things have been flagged, institute an appeals system, make sure there isn't any original game music on the flagging list.
        We have no plans at all for it to expand to live content.


        I like that they're thinking about an appeals system after the fact.

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        August 7, 2014 11:31 AM

        The thing is, they don't intend to flag in-game music, but it will get flagged and it's not going to be an isolated incident. People will have to file appeals en masse and that's going to be a nightmare.

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          August 7, 2014 11:33 AM

          what kills me is that their blog did, and still does, explicitly say that they intend to flag in-game music. this is a direct quote:

          We’ve partnered with Audible Magic, which works closely with the recorded music industry, to scan past and future VODs for music owned or controlled by clients of Audible Magic. This includes in-game and ambient music.

          http://blog.twitch.tv/2014/08/3136/

          their messaging couldn't be worse on this

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            August 7, 2014 12:06 PM

            The AMA they're supposed to have today on Reddit should be rather backpedal-ey and inconsistent.

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            August 7, 2014 12:42 PM

            There are two different things here; one is licensed in-game music like the radio tracks in GTA games, and the other is the "original in-game music" that the reddit post refers to; i.e., original music composed for the game's soundtrack. They definitely intend to detect and mute the former; apparently the latter should get a pass, but I think it's still up to the publishers whether they register that original music with Audible Magic or not.

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        August 7, 2014 11:54 AM

        Is it me or does anyone else think that something is terribly wrong when streaming/recording ourselves playing a game with audible in game music can potentially ruin our lives?

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      August 7, 2014 11:19 AM

      Twitch's own streaming channel got muted:
      https://twitter.com/Kiraeyl/status/497145786699091968

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      August 7, 2014 11:26 AM

      Even a week of behind-the-scenes testing would have stopped the bulk of this. The way this was handled was really inept.

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      August 7, 2014 11:56 AM

      The mute is client side. coughrtmpdumpcough

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        August 7, 2014 12:42 PM

        Yeah, chrome app incoming.

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        August 7, 2014 1:25 PM

        Really? Haha wtf

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        August 7, 2014 1:35 PM

        i don't know if they fixed it but someone said you could just push spacebar twice and the client would fuck up and start playing the audio

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        August 7, 2014 2:52 PM

        I just confirmed this. I was able to download the video and the muted part is its own clip.

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          August 7, 2014 2:53 PM

          Forgot. When I played the supposedly muted clip, there was sound.

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        August 7, 2014 3:02 PM

        Waits for inevitable announcement that they'll be completely removed.

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      August 7, 2014 12:27 PM

      Good show Ozzie. The poor execution by Twitch scares me, they must be under pressure to get this done no matter what.

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        August 7, 2014 12:35 PM

        Yeah this seems like a half-assed implementation.

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      August 7, 2014 3:29 PM

      nice reference to fl0e

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      August 7, 2014 3:48 PM

      A person tried to post a playthrough of our game on YouTube and it got flagged because of a background sound from that I bought and used in the game. We also got flagged for a different sound that a video editor used when making a promo video for us. Once again the sound was bought and paid for. The whole auto-detect system is broken IMO thanks to these dicks:

      http://bfmdigital.com/