The Twitch DMCA Controversy: Copyright in a Digital World


Kyle Wang

Twitch is a streaming platform on which any creator can freely stream video-game content for viewers of all different interests. While its main niche is video games, Twitch “streamers” can broadcast themselves doing anything. Some streamers specialize in food, music, or “just chatting.” Of all streaming services, Twitch has historically been the “alpha,” but other platforms such as Mixer and Youtube have made a push for the spotlight. Despite the competition, Twitch has maintained its top position among streaming services. However, Twitch’s empire could soon fall due to its handling of DMCA laws.

Congress enacted the DMCA, or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in 1998. Initially created to counteract piracy, the DMCA was intended to protect all forms of media, like music, writing, art, photography, etc from copyright. On Twitch, the act primarily targets potentially copyrighted music. Even though the act predates the lives of all students at Radnor High School, it has gone under no reform to accommodate modern entertainment. This is where the DMCA has become a problem for streamers and creators.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has become a relevant topic of discussion because of the sudden influx of copyright strikes on the platform, which even Twitch itself acknowledged. By complying with DMCA laws, Twitch must take down videos copyright holders believe “steal” their work. Twitch itself has its own information pertaining to how DMCA copyright accusations are processed on its website.  Before May of 2020, Twitch processed “fewer than 50” of these claims, but the value skyrocketed to over thousands of DMCA notifications each week,” which even includes clips as old as the platform itself. After three violations of the DMCA rules, streamers will be permanently banned and removed from the platform. While these content creators have the ability to appeal these violations, their requests often reach deaf ears. On the surface, Twitch’s actions seem to be justified, but the situation is far more nuanced. 

The backlash and controversy over DMCA comes from streamers who disagree with Twitch’s handling of the DMCA reports outside of the law. Charlie White, (known as Moistcr1tikal), a creator who has amassed almost two million followers, is one of the most outspoken streamers about DMCA. Although his claims on the topic seem quite extreme, he consistently delivers facts and examples that make his arguments valid. White believes that the current DMCA laws are “primitive and archaic,” and that there haven’t been any notable changes to make them applicable to today’s society. Although the law was initially created to prevent piracy of music, the “corrupt music industry” has taken advantage of DMCA laws to generate more revenue by filing questionable DMCA claims. All media platforms have copyright claim systems in place, but White compares the DMCA situation on Twitch to a “firing squad.” The majority of copyright strikes are unreasonably strict, which forces all Twitch streamers, regardless of popularity, to take down some of their videos out of fear of a potential ban. 

Twitch has encouraged streamers to stop playing music in streams. This has raised issues for some content creators, as music can be an integral portion of the stream. Even some of the games that streamers play include copyrighted music, which makes the stream eligible for a DMCA takedown. For instance, the video game Destiny 2 has a song that was produced by a third-party company, so streamers had portions of their Destiny content muted or removed — the video game may have rights to the song, but the streamers do not. Twitch itself also acknowledges this by requesting streamers to review and delete any historical videos with music, regardless of how old the videos are.

Charlie White believes that most of the problems lie on the shoulders of Twitch. Even though the DMCA laws can only go as far as requesting that videos be taken down or be muted, Twitch takes the extra step to ban streamers. Without access to Twitch, streamers can’t produce content for their viewers. For those who rely on streaming for an income, they essentially lose their job because of their “boss’” disapproval. The bans are not always deserved, and as a result, the platform has already begun to lose some of its top streamers because of these regulations. Streamers should not have to take the blame for a copyrighted soundtrack that they have no control over; they are merely consumers playing a game and simultaneously promoting it. 

Some streamers think this influx of DMCA claims is unsurprising. Initially, some streamers like Michael Grzesiek (known as Shroud on Twitch) believed that creators are not exempt from the law. Streaming is a new profession, but being famous on the Internet does not provide streamers with any more leeway than the average citizen. He, among other veteran streamers, was forced to make the difficult decision to delete years-old videos out of fear of getting banned or being given a copyright strike. Even though it is a multi-billion dollar company, Grzesiek firmly believes that Twitch could easily go out of business if lawsuits were filed against them regarding DMCA.

Although streamers are upset about the whole situation, Twitch is also a business that needs money in order to keep the platform running. Even if it is miles above all of its other streaming competitors, Twitch’s money is dwarfed by the music industry’s deep pockets. From the viewpoint of Twitch, the excessive DMCA protocols are put into place to protect themselves from DMCA lawsuits that could make them lose money. With our reliance on the Internet increasing by the day, multiple streamers believe DMCA laws should be changed to better favor them while still adhering to the original message of preventing piracy. Even though “King Twitch” is undeniably the best streaming platform, with a caring and supportive community in most streams, DMCA copyright claims cannot be disregarded altogether. If not, DMCA lawsuits may be the Achilles heel that brings down Twitch.