Geeked Out: Something Good Doesn't Last Forever
Like Napster and YouTube before it, Twitch.tv is grappling with copyright issues.
Big changes are happening in the cottage industry of game streaming. Weeks ago, I wrote about Twitch.tv, a website that features thousands of live streams of people playing video games, and how there are streamers who make a living wage off of playing their favorite music while playing games for you to watch. Recently, however, Twitch.tv implemented its latest policy change, affecting audio in VODs, short for Video On Demand.
In the streaming business, this term refers to live broadcasts that are recorded for later viewing. A perfect example is a few weeks ago the largest DOTA 2 tournament was live-streamed across the world. I was driving for most of this, so as soon as I got home, I went to the Twitch.tv channel that housed all the past broadcasts of the tournament and watched them to get caught up on what I missed – hours of what would be good tunes and good gaming
But the new change that Twitch is implementing is an audio algorithm, which looks for copyright infringed music and silences it. Perhaps you missed a really awesome stream of your favorite Minecraft player, who also likes to rock out to AC/DC while he plays. With the new policy change, you can still go watch him on past broadcasts, but you won't hear him or his tunes of choice – just an enveloping silence.
All of this gets particularly sticky with the many video games that feature licensed music throughout the game. Most developers and publishers of games love the free publicity that comes from thousands of people playing their game to market it towards others. However, for example, American game developer and distributor Electronic Arts doesn't own the songs it uses in games like FIFA or Madden. They license them from the RIAA or the musicians themselves.
Twitch.tv's explanation for the change? The official statement pulled from the update change reads, "We respect the rights of copyright owners, and are voluntarily undertaking this effort to help protect both our broadcasters and copyright owners."
To say the least, many streamers and users are not pleased with the latest policy change. And there's more.
Over the past few months, Twitch.tv, which used to house all previously recorded broadcasts for users, changed its safe harbor policy – meaning that users can only save a highlight reel lasting no more than two hours, forcing many users to find ways to preserve their recordings on their own. Two hours may sound like plenty of time, but when it comes to bigger, more significant events – like that DOTA 2 tournament – it simply isn't.
There is now a sense of fear that this is the beginning of many more restrictions and additional watering down of a once fantastic service. Twitch.tv's growth has been explosive to date, and video game streaming has had huge effects – such as making written game reviews obsolete, allowing development of spectator optimized games, and enabling Electronic Sports to secure a larger viewership – in the gaming industry, something no one predicted. Much of the ire of the latest policy changes is directed to the recent buyout of Twitch by Google for $1 billion.
I disagree that Google is the villain in this scenario. The most recent audio changes smells of music industry pressuring like it did back in the days of Napster. Once a new service gets large enough and the other parties can see a new stone to squeeze blood from, you bet there will be squeezing. Add in Google and its deep pockets, and you can almost sympathize with Twitch taking these steps in an effort to protect what's been created.
Google and the music lobby have gone back and forth in litigation for years now and this seems like the newest battleground. While it is a bummer that this may force popular personalities who have established huge audiences on Twitch to leave or find safer harbor elsewhere, this all just highlights a larger underlying issue: Copyright law and determining what is fair use.
Twitch.tv has since come out in front of the controversial changes and admitted to its user-base that they botched this and that the original implementation wasn't going so smoothly. In the past when they changed how they stored recordings, they gave the community months to prepare before the rug was pulled out from under them. This audio change was implemented in a day and thousands were left with a poor means of disputing the false positives from the copyright algorithm snaking its way through. Now there is an appeal button to help streamers expedite the appeal process.
While the dust is still settling, it seems like Twitch.tv will continue to be the world's largest game streaming site regardless of the controversy building around the new policy changes. But for those who've watched many Internet startups go from being punk-rock stars into stiffs in corporate suits, this is just more of the same.
Remember the early days of YouTube compared to today? Or if you are old enough, just remember the beauty that was Napster when it first went live. As was the case then – and remains the case now – nothing good lasts forever.
John Linvday can be contacted at jLindvay@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @FightStrife.