Twitching: A Few Solutions But More Problems

By Alice O'Connor on August 8th, 2014 at 8:00 pm.

It's late and I'm tired here's your caption what do you want?

Twitch was doing so very well. The livestreaming service was used by millions, integrated into games from Minecraft to World of Tanks, and the only real complaint was long broadcast delays making it difficult for hosts to chat with viewers. This week, two changes–one launched and one planned–burned some of that good will.

Wednesday brought the surprise launch of tech to enforce music copyright, scanning saved videos (not streams) and muting whole 30-minute chunks if any part sounds like a song it knows. Obviously that’s been a bit wonky and caused trouble. Twitch also announced they would limit the amount of video people can save after streams, and wipe huge numbers of archived videos. Now it’s back-pedalled on the latter a little but still going ahead with the problematic music stuff.

Twitch have now lifted the two-hour limit imposed on highlight videos clipped from broadcasts, they announced yesterday. Highlights can again be as long as people please, safe forever assuming Twitch don’t change their minds. This was partially motivated by upset speedrunners, who sometimes use Twitch videos to prove times.

But in three weeks, the other big change will go ahead and whole broadcasts will be deleted after 14 days (or 60 for subscribers and fancy media partners). Better get backing up on YouTube.

The blog post also notes that Twitch plan to add an “appeal” button for people who feel their videos have been unjustly targeted by its automated music copyright enforcer. Twitch uses Audible Magic to scan videos (and, I repeat, not streams) for copyrighted songs registered by record labels, then silences any it finds. But due to the way Twitch saves videos in 30-minute sections, it can’t only mute the part when a song’s playing and instead silences the whole half-hour.

Twitch CEO Emmett Shear took to Reddit for damage control in an ‘Ask Me Anything‘ session, admitting that launching the auto-muting stuff without warning was “a mistake.” He says that the whole system is to protect streamers from being sued under the DMCA.

To be clear: Twitch already forbade streamers from playing music they didn’t own the copyright to, even in the background. Our laws what they are, copyright holders can object to that. What’s bad is how poorly Twitch handled this, the problems with their system, and the overzealous solution.

But who’s claiming copyright?

Some music is being flagged even when the people who performed it swear blind it shouldn’t, just as YouTube’s audio scanning did when it launched last year.

Videos of Crypt of the NecroDancer (which is pretty good) are being silenced while composer Danny Baranowsky insists “nobody but me has the authority to ask for a takedown.” He explained that it “was somehow identified as music in Audible Magic catalog. Even though it isn’t!”

NecroDancer creators Brace Yourself Games are even seeing their own dev streams muted. Shear responded to a question from Brace Yourself, but didn’t say why that might be happening.

Bad matches

Audio recognition is inherently imprecise, not looking for perfect matches. Twitch’s system has, for example, muted some of Valve’s $10 million Dota 2 tournament The International. “That was a false positive (misidentification of crowd noise as music), which we’ve now fixed,” Shear explained.

Presumably their cheering sounded too much like cheers on a song. It won’t be the only noise which just so happens to sound like music in the system.

Poor testing

“The vast majority of matches seem correct as far as we can tell,” Shear claimed. “There are exceptional cases which are of course now very public and embarrassing, but I don’t know how we would have found them without launching.”

The zany notion of testing springs to mind, perhaps starting on a small portion of videos to see how it works, or scanning for matches to see what pops up without following through on muting.

Brute force frustration

The questionable copyright claims, false positives, and sheer fact that this happens are mostly irritating because Twitch’s tech responds so clumsily to suspected matches. Silencing half an hour because of, potentially, only a few seconds is so sloppy. Why is muting the only option?

YouTube’s copyright gubbins, for example, gives copyright owners the option to collect ad money from videos, leaving their sound intact. Most seem to do this, because it turns out that copyright enforcers quite like money. They do have the option to silence videos if they want, but few seem to.

“We’re working on providing the ability to ‘accept the claim’ and share monetization, but that might take a long time,” Shear wrote.

He didn’t explain why Twitch wouldn’t wait until they could do it in a not-horrible way.

When “forever” doesn’t mean forever

Then there’s the other problem, Twitch deleting videos. They still plan to wipe the years of archived broadcasts. People could, in theory, now manually go in and save every last one of their broadcasts in their entirety as ‘highlights’ to preserve them, now they’re not limited. Twitch bank on people not noticing, caring, or having time to do this.

Everything people saved using an option that was literally labelled “save forever” will be wiped without intervention, whether it’s speedrun records, charity streams, digital sports tournaments, guides, tutorials, or just plain people like me trying to entertain viewers.

A big mess

I understand why Twitch are looking at changes like this. The music copyright stuff puts them on safer legal ground (Shear says they’re safe anyway, simply a platform) and potentially opens new avenues for monetisation. Twitch surely do have squillions of gigabytes of video that no one will ever watch just sitting around filling hard drives. However, it had said those videos were safe “forever,” and this silencing music-matching system is bum. It all feels rushed and sloppy. We could only speculate about how it relates to the recent rumours of Google looking to buy Twitch.

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40 Comments »

  1. darkhog says:

    Move to hitbox, people. They aren’t doing any nasty stuff and their chat system is actually lag-free.

    • meepmeep says:

      What is preventing Hitbox from having to do exactly the same things if it becomes big enough to be on the DMCA radar?

      • darkhog says:

        Nothing, but the point is that for now it doesn’t do such things and when it does, well, there will be other services. I’ve seen some youtubers I follow move to DailyMotion for example.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Nothing, but I guess till then Hitbox may be a viable alternative.

        If companies realise that every time they impose Draconian rules on their own content creators that those content creators will move on, they’ll probably be less likely to impose such rules.

        • Corb says:

          The root cause for these draconian rules 9/10 times is the s*** storm called DMCA. 10/10 times it’s our f***tarded excuse of a legal system that allows the DMCA to exist in its current state without reform of any kind. Also the legal system for allowing people/companies to sue, and set a legal precedence by doing so, for anything anyone can think up to make a quick buck.

      • olemars says:

        Hitbox appears to be based in Austria: http://about.hitbox.tv/imprint/
        Not sure what legal implications that may have.

    • Tei says:

      I think the solution is to move to servers that are not hosted in USA servers and by USA companies. Any relation with the USA country taint online services (NSA, Hollywood, etc)

  2. Premium User Badge

    Monkeyshines says:

    Nothing saved on somebody else’ server is ever forever.

    Unless it’s a nude selfie or embarrassing photos drinking shots (with or without gang hand signs).

    • eggy toast says:

      Seriously, I can’t even keep track of how many “unlimited” or “forever” services I’ve used online, but they all disappear sooner or later, often with even less warning than this.

  3. alsoran says:

    Oh dear! ….. and in other news today.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Bradamantium says:

    The way they’re deleting old videos is bizarre, especially when coupled with the fact that they’re also limiting highlights to two hours to “save space.” Has the money dried up? Do they need to move their servers from a nice warehouse to their mother’s basement? It’s bad enough that they’ve got to delete what no doubt amounts to hundreds of terabytes of video, but then to say they still won’t have quite enough room?

  5. Cloudiest Nights says:

    Yeah, I’ve been trying to move away from Twitch now when watching the LoL Tournaments…

  6. DanMan says:

    This had to happen one day. I’m always amazed by how much shit Youtube stores. That only works because it’s owned by Google. How’s a comparatively small company like Twitch supposed to handle all this?

    • JP says:

      Storage is so ridiculously cheap these days, and if most video doesn’t get viewed that much, most of your bandwidth costs are for the really popular stuff anyway.

      • Simes says:

        Yes. It doesn’t make sense to me for them to delete all the archived video right as they’re about to merge with the biggest player in online archived video. Google has a LOT of hard drive space.

        • DanMan says:

          So the blame doesn’t fall on Google once they’ve acquired Twitch. If they did this AFTER buying them, everyone’s reaction would be like yours: “You can do it on Youtube, why not here?”.

          • Simes says:

            That still doesn’t explain why they’re doing it at all.

          • mike2R says:

            The numbers are probably a bit different between Twitch and YouTube. Both sites must have tons of people uploading video that almost no-one watches, but they probably generate a lot more in terms of hours on Twitch than they do on YouTube, just because of how the two services are used. If a lot of people are saving multi-hour streams several times a week on Twitch, they are going to have a bigger storage problem than YouTube where the same type of user might be uploading a few half-hour videos. And perhaps old YouTube videos get watched more than old Twitch streams on average.

            Just some guesses, but there must be a reason why storage is more of a problem for Twitch than YouTube.

          • Simes says:

            Which just takes us back to my response to JP, above.

            I think I found the answer, though: http://blog.twitch.tv/2014/08/update-changes-to-vods-on-twitch/

            In short, their infrastructure is terrible and all their VODs are stored in flv format. They’d need a lot of time to transcode all that video into something better and so they’re throwing it away instead, and requiring their users to export anything they want to keep. Pretty sucky. I’m getting more and more inclined to believe that they were bought purely for the brand and the user base, because their tech doesn’t seem up to much.

  7. benkc says:

    Does the Audible Magic stuff actually look for matches to known copyrighted works? Given what’s happened, it sounds like what it’s actually doing is scanning for anything that sounds like it might be music, and blacklisting all of it. Are there any videos with old folk songs or whatever that aren’t getting erroneously muted? If so, I wonder how the rate of that compares to their failure rate for stuff that it is intended to flag.

  8. ExplosiveCoot says:

    RIP Twitch.tv, 2011 – 2014.

    Kind of ironic that their attempt to become more attractive to a potential buyer is what will kill the business (and presumably any sane purchaser’s interest.)

  9. Premium User Badge

    melnificent says:

    It’s poorly implemented too. Already bypassed the restriction and watching the Dev stream linked above with fall audio :D

  10. Koozer says:

    I wonder what the accuracy of this software is. I’m sure Audible Magic’s engineers know, but unfortunately it’s the PR guys who do the talking.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      Twitch does have squillions of videos so all it takes is a high-profile failure or two to make it look shoddy.

      But really, crowds cheering? That’s not good for a platform broadcasting loads of digital sports tournaments.

    • Jalan says:

      There’s been a big ruckus on Twitter about the accuracy of it, with a lot of indie game composers getting outraged that it had flagged their content (which shouldn’t be in any content ID databases since they didn’t put it in any) erroneously on videos from various users who reported in to them.

      Frankly, it being hit and miss is par for the course with this junk. YouTube’s content ID recognition is similar and I’ve had an experience myself where I uploaded a video with a song in it that’s been flagged and had its audio completely silenced while a video that’s been sitting on another user’s channel for multiple years with the EXACT same song has its audio intact.

      The portion of the music industry that still goes in for this stuff have had over a decade to get wise to what their consumers are actually looking for from them. Instead it’s just easier to slap gags on them willy nilly when someone steps outta line.

  11. DrMcCoy says:

    Isn’t the muting itself copyright infringement? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4%E2%80%B233%E2%80%B3 :P

  12. bjohndooh says:

    I really don’t get why they have to mute 30 minutes at time.
    I’m under the impression it’s muted client-side – meaning if you download the broadcast stream directly all the audio is actually there.

    • Simes says:

      According to them their system operates in 30-minute chunks internally so the only data they have is “chunk x contains possibly infringing audio” and then they mute the whole thing. Apparently someone thought that was acceptable.

  13. HisDivineOrder says:

    They’re getting their ducks in a row before they become part of Google. Plus, if they make the alternative system look truly dreadful, then maybe people will be happier when it’s “only” the Google Content ID system muting just 5 minute blocks of video instead of this third party crap muting 30 minute segments.

    Then when Google announces ownership of Twitch and the switch from crap to slightly less crappy crap, people will rejoice whereas before they would have screamed bloody murder.

    A clever plot is complete and those afflicted barely realize what just the f happened.

    • bleeters says:

      Considering how thoroughly they’re nuking the one part of their service the content matching even applies to – the past broadcasts – I’m not sure why it would even matter. All this is doing is turning people away from them as a streaming service.

      • pepperfez says:

        Away from them and to what? There was a similar outcry when youtube started redirecting ad revenue and arbitrarily nuking music, but they’re too big to fail. Twitch streamers have their subscribers there, and being the biggest name is worth something. If (as seems likely/certainish) Google buys them, they’ll have all of that marketing and traffic routing behind them.

  14. Lawful Evil says:

    “When “forever” doesn’t mean forever”

    And the kids cried.

  15. Rhyder says:

    Something to do with the AI Quantum Computer ‘D-Wave Two’? Is it really about copyright, or more about Google having unrestricted access to online data? These videos aren’t being deleted after 14 days, they’ll be moved somewhere to be data mined by AI. No way they would delete them, they keep everything.

    • Simes says:

      This makes absolutely no sense. If you’re going to keep the videos and datamine them you’d keep them publicly accessible because there’s no reason at all not to.

  16. Tei says:

    Audible Magic. Another unneeded technology full of false positives to please the corrupt and rich hollywood media + music industry.

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    DantronLesotho says:

    I don’t understand why Twitch can’t just send out warnings to the uploaders without taking down or muting the video. I understand they are trying to limit their users’ liability, but they should limit their own first.

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