Twitch Gets Clipped

The gaming world has been abuzz this week after a over a wave of DMCA takedown notices that has suddenly started hitting hundreds of Twitch users.

The notices target clips containing copyrighted music, some of which date from as far back as 2017. The sudden crackdown left Twitch users scrambling to scrub their channels of clips containing music, in some cases requiring them to manually delete thousands of individual snippets due to a lack of automated tools for clip management provided by the platform.

Twitch itself responded to the sudden influx of notices by updating its terms of service to spell out explicitly what users can and cannot do with music and threatening to suspend the accounts of users who draw multiple takedown notices.

The wave of notices caught Twitch users by surprise. Gamers have been creating and sharing Twitch Clips for years, many of them including music, with relatively little interference from rights owners. So why now, and why in such volume?

We don’t have clear answers to those questions yet, but there are some clues to what may be going on here in how it all went down.

First, all or nearly all the notices in the recent wave listed the Recording Industry Association (RIAA) as the claimant. The RIAA is a trade association, and does not own any of the copyrights at issue. Instead, it was acting as an agent of multiple rightsholders, suggesting a high degree of coordination among the record labels RIAA represents.

This was an orchestrated, industry-wide effort clearly meant to send a message.

What message?

The notices primarily targeted Twitch Clips. Clips are not created by streamers but by viewers. They are short — no more than 60 seconds — snippets taken from live broadcasts or VOD streams, sometimes with added music.

Unlike most other content on Twitch, clips can be downloaded and shared on other platforms, meaning they can go viral, which may be part of why they were targeted.

A lot of the flagged content was also archived older material .

In other words, the record labels seem not to be, for now at least, looking to disrupt financially important current activity on Twitch. But they clearly want to get the platform’s attention.

Twitch has become an increasingly important platform for the record companies and music publishers as the worlds of music and videogames increasingly converge. So far, however, Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, has not bothered itself to secure licenses for most of the music that appears on it (Twitch does offer users a small library of pre-cleared music to use in streams and clips). Nor has it ever developed the sort of content ID capability as YouTube and Facebook have.

Since Covid-19 Twitch has also become a popular platform for artists and DJs to stream live performances, most of which is also happening without being licensed. But clearly the labels are not interested in cracking down on their own artists during this very difficult time. Their target is Twitch.

For it’s part, Twitch has tried to push the onus down onto users, warning them of their responsibility to post only content for which they have secured the rights and threatening to shut down the accounts of those who continue to violate the rules.

But I doubt the labels will be satisfied with forcing a few users to take down some old clips. Their goal is to bring Twitch under the same sort of broad licensing umbrella as YouTube, Facebook and other UGC platforms. The timing of their move is also no doubt related to the approaching deadline in Europe for countries to implement the EU Copyright Directive, including Article 17, which shifts much of the burden of policing infringing content onto platforms rather than rightsholders.

The labels may also have seen a greenlight closer to home in the U.S. Copyright Office’s recent recommendations for updating the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown procedures to give rights owners greater leverage.

In short, the labels feel their leverage increasing and are moving to ratchet up the pressure further on Twitch. But the latest salvo is likely just the opening shot in what could be a long fight.