While Twitch may have started as a platform for gamers to stream their exploits, it’s evolved into one of the primary venues for live streaming of any sort (along with the ubiquitous YouTube.) Gaming is still a huge component of the audience, to be sure, but a quick look at the homepage reveals that the site even has a Music tab for viewers to browse live performances from any number of artists around the globe. Which makes the platform’s somewhat fraught history with songs and copyright a bit curious, or more likely vexing.
Twitch’s history of pulling or muting videos over copyrighted songs is well-documented, and whatever your thoughts on their practices, they make a certain amount of sense when you bear in mind every platform’s concern about protecting themselves against even the suggestion of a lawsuit. Then there is what happened recently with Metallica, which makes no sense whatsoever even to the most overzealous copyright watchdog.
If you’re unfamiliar with the particulars, Engaget as a good write-up, but the broad strokes are as such: Blizzard Entertainment, makers of World of Warcraft and other video games, held their annual convention virtually this year due to the pandemic, and as befitting a convention/spectacle in the year 2021, virtual or otherwise, had a musical act as a capper for the festivities: the legendary Metallica. Fans tuning in to hear “Master of Puppets” or “Creeping Death” over the Twitch stream were gravely disappointed, as the platform took the step of dubbing the performance with odd, generic music over — you guessed it — copyright concerns.
The step might have made a bit more sense if Blizzcon had decided to play Metallica songs as part of the event without license or authorization, but the absurdity really is striking: here is Metallica, playing songs they wrote and have performed for decades, having their feed cut to some royalty-free music for fear that Twitch was going to be sued by...who, exactly? Metallica? Their record label? In the event of the latter, it seems like that would be a pretty easy thing to resolve with a couple of calls or emails. But such is the concern over copyright that Twitch isn’t even willing to gamble on something that isn’t even really a gamble.
It’s easy to point the finger at the platform in this instance, but plenty of blame lies at the feet of rightsholders; if Twitch is jumpy, it’s because labels have taken to wielding the DMCA as a weapon to remove any instance of their songs, with the threat of legal action serving to make Twitch even more aggressive than said labels when it comes to taking down streams. Thus we end up with the absurdity of Blizzcon which, if trends are to be believed, won’t be the last time an artist loses the right to play their own music.