Fine, if you went to the Twitch website right now, you’d still find it in operation. But after recent events, in light of its buyout being on the horizon, the service is probably not going to be of much use to people who like to stream videogames on the service and keep the stream videos on the site for people to catch-up with at a later date (video-on-demand/VOD). Why? Because of their new heavy handed implementation of technology to protect copyrighted music. They announced it on their blog yesterday and as far as I’ve seen it’s created a mess already. It’s a mess, because I first knew of it when I saw these Tweets this morning:

I was one of the people who sponsored Johnny’s 24-hour The Last of Us Remastered playthrough for GamesAid. While I didn’t sit through much of it, I can understand his frustration at having huge chunks of it muted. It’s not like he can reference a section of his specific playthrough now and have people completely understand its context. Keeping the video as VOD is now also pointless.

Culling commentary

The Last of Us Remastered img 1Last year’s controversies surrounding YouTube’s implementation of content ID –  to “help” crack down on videos containing music represented by certain organisations within the music industry – is well documented in terms of its effects on people who do things like Let’s Plays and so on.

A lot of Twitch users don’t use Twitch to keep VOD versions of their playthroughs online for the sake of prosperity, but if you are someone using the platform to produce video based commentary on games and the videos aren’t meant to be disposable media, then the new policy is obviously going to create issues. Not all games let you turn off their music, but then music also provides context in games like The Last of Us, to help set mood and add further depth to a scene and its characters and environment.

Not having music from a videogame in a video about a videogame (so long as the music is there for mood rather than just background) is a bit like reading a quote from a novel and missing out words from the quote in a way that makes the quote less understandable. Music in games provide context, just as it often does in films. And under existing fair use/fair dealing laws, commentary (criticism, reviews) should be protected. But the way that Twitch are just doing thirty minute sections of muting means that there’s no way those rights are being protected, but then those rights, when you look at them, just don’t support the manner in which games criticism is currently evolving. It’s really iffy justifying fair dealing if a whole text is there, but then laws don’t seem to have been written with games in mind.

The music industry needs to stop shooting itself in the backside (and everyone else)…

There’s something that a lot of media, especially music, tends to forget: people are lazy. Sure, they also like free stuff, but the pain of getting your hands on something for free, when it over tips the balance of the ease of getting it, means that people breaking copyright laws would like an easier means of obtaining content. One assumes that the music industry doesn’t believe that people are using audio tracks from gameplay videos to rip music, which is a pain to do.

Twitch img 1What they’re (the music industry) is twisting Google’s arm over are laws related to playing music through manners in which the industry considers forms of broadcasting. It’s one of the aspects of copyright and broadcasting laws tied-in with music that basically means that musicians/acts/composers/songwriters registered with companies like the PRS or PPL have these companies try to get a payment for music being played, regardless of whether the music has been paid for at some point. I’m talking royalties. Yet the manner in which criticism and so forth is meant to be protected under fair dealing laws seems to run counter to organisations asserting the royalty rights of music creators and performers.

I’m not against musicians, composers, songwriters getting money for their endeavours. I just think there are better ways of getting money for them and to them. Like I said, people are lazy and if you make it easier for people to pay for something than obtain it for free they’ll probably go with paying, which is what showed during its short lifespan. Films that have legitimate means of being bought or streamed were, according to data from, less likely to be pirated.

And while some music videos on YouTube include links to buy the songs through services like iTunes, why can’t copyrighted music in videogames be similarly identified on YouTube or Twitch and several buying/legit streaming options be presented to viewers (and maybe links to places to buy games being featured)? Obviously in the case of videogames, the music is going to change frequently and often, but by muting huge segments of videos on Twitch it’s just going to stop viewers from discovering and becoming interested in new music. And muting is also going to stop commentators from being able to review and critique videogames. The technology is there, it’s just a question of whether the will is too.

… And policy-makers need to stop helping them

But the current mess of copyright and broadcast laws needs to be reviewed and changed. Preferably by independent groups who don’t serve the music industry, but instead the right to expression (of musicians, other media creators and commentators), while at the same time having their eyes open to the numerous and varied ways people are discussing and dissecting new media and the possible ways this may be happening in the future.

No fake geeks header v1Looking at the cost for just a PRS license for Limited Online Music (in the UK, you would need a PPL license too) it’s obvious that small-time commentators (the majority of us, who aren’t Yogscast or PewDiePie) aren’t going to be able to even justify to our bank balance paying £126 (plus VAT) a year for up to 180,000 plays across all of our videos. (You can find PRS pricing guide for small users here.) In fact, the numbers that the levels of license cover completely ignores that a) you don’t know when a video may become a viral hit and use up your license and b) not all videos can be monetised directly by video uploaders, because of other agreements that sites like YouTube have with media copyright holders. That Limited license is meant to cover those of us whose “online services” generate up to or less than £12,500 a year, but seems to completely ignore the rights given under fair dealing laws.

The whole situation is a mess. And I don’t know where it needs to be tackled from first.