Twitch's No Good, Very Bad Time Continues: Part 1
from the what-a-con dept
I’m beginning to wonder if the folks that run Twitch are secretly attempting to commit corporate suicide. The past several weeks have seen the popular streaming platform embroiled in controversy. It began when, in response to the RIAA labels DMCA attacks on streamers, Twitch took the unprecedented step to simply nuke a zillion hours of recorded content without warning its creators. In the wake of that, the platform kept essentially silent on its actions, simply advising its creators that they should “learn about copyright”. In lieu of any real crisis communication, Twitch instead rolled out the release of a new emoji, pissing everyone off. Then came Twitch’s apology, where the Amazon-owned platform acknowledged that it really should have had a method for letting streamers know which content was accused of infringement instead of nuking it all, while also continuing the DMCApocalypse, getting so granular as to allow streamers to be targeted by DMCA claims on game music and sound effects, including on videos that had already been taken down.
With its creators and patrons both in full revolt, it probably wasn’t the best timing that Twitch’s GlitchCon remote convention took place mid-November. Complaints about the convention were far-reaching, but much of it centered on the coin spent promoting it instead of Amazon simply licensing music so streamers could stream, along with the terse commentary on the turmoil itself.
We’ll start with the promotion of the event.
The convention took place on November 14, but a difficult-to-ignore sensation of dissonance began to creep in before it even kicked off. To promote the event, Twitch sent themed trailers decked out with Twitch merch to select streamers—which streamers began tweeting about on November 13. While the streamers who’d received the vehicles seemed pleased, the response from many others was uniform: Why was Twitch spending money on glitzy trailers when it should’ve been putting every penny it could toward licensing music, thereby beheading the DMCA dragon currently terrorizing the platform?
Of course, the teams at Twitch that handle event planning and DMCA-related matters are very different, and this question ignores the reality of how budgeting tends to work at large companies. However, the broader sentiment from streamers was understandable; over the course of the past month, Twitch has massively eroded community trust by leaving streamers high and dry when the music industry finally came to collect its toll, forcing streamers to delete their entire histories instead of providing them with alternatives—or even accessible means of contesting copyright claims. During the lead-up to GlitchCon, streamers were not exactly in a celebratory mood.
As Kotaku notes, it’s not entirely fair to simply claim that the money spent promoting GlitchCon should have been spent on music licensing instead. But it’s not entirely unfair either, and the larger point is that Twitch did this to itself. By acting so callous with the work of its creators, and by then spending promotional budget dollars in a way that reminds everyone that this is a company backed by Amazon, it was inevitable that creators would throw up their hands in disgust. Whatever we might want to say about the imperfection of copyright laws, or the broken method by which copyright is policed at scale by platforms like Twitch, it most certainly is true that Amazon/Twitch could have avoided literally all of this by simply licensing a bunch of RIAA music. It’s not like Amazon couldn’t have afforded it. But, instead, Twitch’s creators got screwed.
But when Twitch CEO Emmett Shear gave his keynote to kick off GlitchCon, the pushing of any information off to a future Q&A coupled with the highlighting just how bad a job his company did in supporting streamers felt like the worst of all worlds.
“It’s obvious that many of you want and deserve a lot more information from us, and a 10-minute Q&A session wouldn’t even come close to the level of depth of conversation that we want to have with you,” he said, noting that there will be a town hall devoted to the topic of DMCAs next month. He proceeded to apologize, largely reiterating what Twitch said in an apology letter it posted last week.
“If you receive a DMCA takedown, you should be able to know exactly what the content is or, if you believe you are authorized, you should know how to contest the takedown. I believe it’s a failing of our email to creators on October 20 that we didn’t include enough of this information, and it’s an issue with our current systems that we’re working to improve,” Shear said during the GlitchCon keynote. “We should have had better tools for you to manage your content, and we wish we did. We’re sorry those tools weren’t available when you needed them and that so many creators had to delete their videos capturing their communities’ best moments and accomplishments.”
Who this message was supposed to please is entirely unclear to me. Great, Twitch has acknowledged that it failed to support its creators with the tools necessary to do DMCA takedowns and restoration correctly. The first step to correcting a problem, as they say, is acknowledging you have a problem. But then announcing that the Twitch community deserves a ton of answers here, but they won’t get them for another month? That’s damned near self-immolation in the tech space. A glitzy convention put on without addressing a community in near revolt…why? Why in the world would you even take that virtual stage without being prepared to address the controversy?
It’s not surprising that the reaction from the Twitch community was largely negative. And, because of Twitch’s bullheaded approach to mostly ignoring all of this, that negativity overshadowed the rest of the convention, including some fairly positive happenings at Twitch.
Attempted corporate suicide is starting to look like a term bereft of exaggeration.