(Our intern, Mark Hamilton, Jr., assisted in the creation of this blog post. Mark is a rising 3L at Marquette University Law School)
With Twitch experiencing yet another wave of DMCA takedowns from the music industry, IRL streamers are particularly vulnerable if they are not careful. As an IRL streamer, it is easy to forget that the sounds around you, including music and other broadcasts, are not only being heard but also recorded and saved by your stream. This issue is not necessarily a new one, as Twitch has experienced multiple waves of DMCA claims in the past few years, though it is a topic worth reminding about.
IRL streamers must be aware of and understand their surroundings, even more so than a streamer playing a simple First-Person Shooter game. As most IRL streams are in an environment in which is not controlled by the streamer, whether it be grocery shopping, retail shopping, or in a restaurant, IRL streamers need to be aware of copyrighted content around them so as to help avoid DMCA claims. This blog post discusses some ways that IRL streamers can help to avoid a DMCA takedown and ultimately ease some concern about IRL streamers being helpless to DMCA takedowns due to their environment.
What is a DMCA takedown?
A DMCA takedown is a notice sent to an internet service provider because a copyright owner believes someone has infringed upon their content and wants the infringement removed. Essentially, the copyright owner would submit a DMCA takedown notice with Twitch stating that a specific streamer is utilizing their content without permission and that they want the stream and VOD removed. Twitch would then, following its procedures, take down the content that was referenced to by the copyright owner. At this point, the streamer would be told by Twitch why their stream was banned or VODs removed. The streamer could then file a counter-notice, which basically states that the stream and content did not violate any copyright law and that the material should not have been removed, effectively forcing the alleged copyright owner to pursue them in court.
However, if a copyright owner files a DMCA takedown and gets the streamer’s content removed without actually checking and making sure that there was a violation, there are consequences. Knowingly submitting a false DMCA takedown makes the alleged rights-holder liable for damages, which the aggrieved party would be entitled to.
How are IRL streams subject to DMCA takedowns?
IRL streams face two primary issues in avoiding DMCA takedowns. First, as IRL streams are predominantly in public settings, there is concern that the streamer cannot determine what kind of content is and is not being played in their environment. This in and of itself is the key DMCA takedown risk factor that typical streamers do not have. Second, as common with all streamers, there is the issue of broadcasted copyright content, like background music in a store, being recorded on the streamer’s VODs. Because a VOD is an archived stream, it not only contains all of the audio that was recorded and live-streamed but also is available for any investigating parties/technologies to review and potentially flag for DMCA violations.
Not All DMCA Takedowns are Appropriate
Recently, some IRL streamers have been using their streams as a talk show to discuss ongoing sporting events. Such was the case with CDNThe3rd (“Ceez”) when his stream was recently banned. During the Logan Paul and Floyd Mayweather fight, Ceez was using his stream as a platform to discuss the fight in what he refers to as “#ViewageFightNights.” At no point did Ceez show the PPV event or play any of the sounds from the broadcast. Instead, Ceez used his own graphics and placed a round counter and timer at the bottom with information about how to legally purchase the fight. Ceez, who has hosted these IRL fight talk shows many times, was then banned by Twitch after only three hours. Showtime, the broadcaster and rights holder of the Paul fight, issued a DMCA strike against Ceez and his stream. However, Showtime did not adequately assess the situation as their content was never shown or played by Ceez. As of now, Ceez has gained his channel back and is no longer banned. But, the mere fact that Ceez had his banned lifted does not make the DMCA takedown by Showtime proper. If Ceez chose to, he may be able to pursue Showtime for damages as a result of the false DMCA takedown.
How to Avoid DMCA Takedowns as an IRL Streamer
Admittedly, the best advice to avoid any sort of DMCA takedown as an IRL streamer is to avoid copyrighted material overall. While this is not easy, it is the only surefire way to ensure that your content will not be flagged or taken down. IRL streaming presents a unique set of circumstances, and often it might feel as if you are more limited than you might be while streaming a game. Unfortunately, because most environments in IRL streams are not established by the streamer themselves, the streamer may be more exposed to potential DMCA takedowns.
Legally speaking, IRL streamers should be aware of what they are walking into. In order to help avoid DMCA takedowns, IRL streamers need to be able to recognize potential copyrighted content issues that the setting of their stream and its background may present. Making legally appropriate decisions will determine whether or not the stream or its VOD gets flagged or taken down. Unfortunately, these are not easy assessments to make and may require further planning in advance of IRL streams. While this removes some of the randomness to the content, which is otherwise appreciated in IRL streams, this will also give you the time to think through the risks of copyrighted content at each planned location or give you the opportunity to speak with your attorney to evaluate potential issues.
IRL streaming has never been easy, and the discussed copyright issues compound that difficulty. If you require any assistance with assessing the legal risks of your planned IRL streams, we’re happy to help.
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