A losing battle against big companies and the platforms that shuns its own contributors
By Laishram Niteshwor Singh
YouTubers and Twitch streamers have long known that they have to be careful not to allow any music or clips owned by big corporations into their videos or they risk losing their Ad revenue, either through a copyright strike or a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice/takedown.
It’s one of the biggest and most common frustrations amongst creators because often, when they receive a claim on one of their videos, they are completely powerless to do anything about it. Content creators can lose all the advertising revenue on a 30-minute video for less than 10 seconds of music or even humming, and have no other option but to edit out the sounds because no single creator can go up against a company of that size.
DMCA issues not only affect streaming culture but are also counter-intuitive for musicians. Streamers playing music in a stream is a form of advertisement. People make playlists of music played on streams that get thousands of views, ultimately promoting the artists and their songs. By enforcing DMCA so harshly, musicians are also missing out on potential growth.
It’s a real problem for creators who want to remix or create educational content about popular music, and the law isn’t necessarily on their side: fair use law is limited in scope, and even musical covers and a cappella performances are still protected by various forms of copyright. It all leads to a tense balance between the interests of video creators and musicians, with the platforms caught in the middle.
The battle between the company and its streamers came to a head in November 2020, when creators were forced to delete videos on demand (VODs) and clips that contained copyrighted music, lest they be banned from the platform. For many long-time streamers, this meant taking down years’ worth of archived video content from Twitch.
This pressure on creators has only increased since last November. Twitch has become notorious for handing out bans and censoring streams at the slightest reference to a copyrighted song or a banned word.
On the other hand, Copyright claims can only be made within the YouTube platform, but that doesn’t mean they are any less misused. A system called Content ID scans videos and flags any to creators where it sees their work being copied, so the creator then decides whether to make a claim depending on whether the video falls under fair use or not.
YouTube provides only one alternative, give all of your private information to whoever copyright striked the content, or suck it up. And when it’s a channel with much more subscribers than the person who was striked, YouTube don’t listen and creators get away with it.
YouTube’s hands are tied when it comes to false claims because it has to balance the creator’s interests and Law of the land.
One of the main aspects of copyright law that allows YouTube to exist is Safe Harbor, where platforms like YouTube are not held responsible for copyrighted content uploaded by their users. If this law didn’t exist, then platforms that host user content would not be able to exist.
But because of this law, the platforms cannot step in and make decisions about these copyright claims because that would mean interpreting the law and ruling in favor of one party. That can only be done in a court of law.
YouTube can reverse strikes if the person submitting the claim has entered illegitimate information like a fake name or email address, or if they do not own the content. But at the moment there is no option to report either of these things when a creator appeals the claim.
A popular opinion among content creators is that the platforms bend over backwards to keep big advertisers and companies happy. They probably don’t want to even risk taking the fall for copyright lawsuits so they let the rights holders paint with a broad brush that leads to a ton of copyright abuse.
With content being striked left and right, it’s not sure how the platforms could fix the issue, but there’s a massive lack of transparency with their creators, that’s for sure.
(The Writer is a final year student of MA Mass Communication, Manipur University)