Why Your Favorite Twitch Streamer Might Be Muted

Here's why everyone's archived videos are muted

  • Twitch, the Amazon-owned live streaming platform, grew like wildfire in 2020, and now accounts for around 90% of online broadcasting.
  • It's been forced to make big changes in the wake of a flurry of copyright takedowns from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
  • Do you have, watch, or want to start a Twitch channel? This is worth knowing about.
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The American music industry has filed another batch of takedown requests against the live streaming platform, Twitch, which may once again catch its users in the crossfire.

Twitch emailed its users last week to inform them it's recently received 1,000 new DMCA takedown requests relating to the unlicensed use of music, all of which were related to VODs. In general, this means fan-created clips and archived recordings of live footage. This is the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle between Twitch, its users, and the music industry, which has seemingly been scouring Twitch for any sign of unlicensed music for most of the last year.

"If a streamer were to do an IRL stream, and you can hear a top 40 song in the background for more than 10 seconds, that stream and the VOD afterward are subject to DMCA," said Chris Alsikkan, a variety streamer on Twitch, in a direct message to Lifewire. "Twitch needs to do better at negotiating with these record companies the way YouTube has. The current system isn't working."

The Start of the Whole Mess

2020 was a good year for Twitch. During the first few months of quarantine, when most other forms of entertainment were postponed or canceled, Twitch's audience skyrocketed. In December 2019, analysts pegged Twitch's traffic at around 900 million hours watched; a year later, in December 2020, that had grown 83% to 1.7 billion hours.

At the same time its numbers were skyrocketing, however, Twitch also came under fire from the music industry. In May 2020, Twitch received what it would later describe as a "sudden influx" of DMCA takedown requests for various clips and videos found on its platform, some of which went as far back as 2015.

"Twitch needs to do better at negotiating with these record companies the way YouTube has."

Twitch later wrote, in a November 2020 blog post, that this marked a massive upswing in the music-related DMCA claims it received every year. Before May 2020, it claims it never received more than 50 a year; now it received thousands of notifications every week.

At this point, Twitch arguably overreacted. From June through October 2020, many streamers reported they'd had their content taken down without warning, and with no word as to why. An email at the time mentioned that "unlicensed copyrighted material" was to blame, but at that point, the best guess anyone had was it had something to do with music rights. Twitch has been doing damage control ever since.

Your Dog Sounds Like a British Techno Band

In response to the issue, Twitch introduced a new feature called Soundtrack in September 2020, providing playlists of rights-cleared music for broadcasters' use. It also revamped its backend to make it easier for broadcasters to manage their video archives, as well as making it clearer when a user has received a copyright strike.

However, Twitch also uses a service called Audible Magic to patrol the site for videos that might use licensed music. If it detects copyrighted music, it automatically mutes the video's feed, or replaces it with a rights-cleared track.

Twitch Soundtrack's featured playlists and stations

Twitch

It’s also notoriously overzealous. Twitch streamers have reported catching automatic bans or copyright strikes for playing their own music, for rights-free tracks Audible mistakes for another song, or even for particularly music-like sounds.

"I was doing a stream last July and one of my dogs was whining at the door of my basement," said Twitch affiliate Stooge, in a Twitter DM to Lifewire. "That stream ended up being muted because Twitch's automated system determined my dog's whining to be the song 'This Time Around,' by KOAN Sound."

"The current system isn't working."

If all you do is watch Twitch from time to time, this doesn't affect you much, except to explain why your favorite streamer has a lot of archived videos without any sound.

If you broadcast on Twitch, or if you ever plan to, this is something you want to keep an eye on. The dispute with the music industry has been a year-long headache for Twitch and its broadcasters, and it's already rapidly changing the landscape for the single biggest live streaming site on the planet. Twitch has disrupted a lot of the modern media landscape; now some of that landscape is disrupting it right back.

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