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Twitching: A Few Solutions But More Problems

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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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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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