If you (lucky you!) don't pay attention to the latest craze among the internet media, you may have missed the mid-to-late-March hype cycle around two livestreaming apps that are available via Twitter. The initial darling was Meerkat, which became this year's annual darling-for-a-week at SXSW. Soon after, it was eclipsed by Periscope, a startup that Twitter bought, just about the same time it pulled Meerkat's ability to push notifications out to users. Both offer the same basic idea: enabling Twitter users to easily livestream video to their followers. Of course, livestreaming is not a new concept. It's been around for ages, and things like Ustream and JustinTV are well-known. Even BitTorrent has tried
to get into the livestreaming game. Not surprisingly, livestreaming technology has been particularly useful for newsworthy situations -- and have been used extensively in violent clashes around the globe or at protests like in Ferguson, Missouri last summer.
But, of course, Hollywood absolutely hates
such things. For years, they've argued that Ustream and JustinTV were destroying
their businesses because some people would turn on a television and set up their phone or computer to livestream whatever they were seeing. So it should come as little shock that right after the media hype cycle around Periscope and Meerkat, a whole series of silly articles started appearing about the copyright consequences
of livestreaming. The Guardian warned that these new livestreaming apps "could cost unwary brands dear."
Billboard warned that these two new apps created a "legal minefield"
because a song playing in the background might (*gasp*) infringe on someone's copyrights. The Atlantic warned that these apps were enabling "a new kind of internet pirate."
And, CBS really went the distance with a fearmongering headline about how Periscope and Meerkat "threatened" the "multi-billion dollar sports broadcast copyrights,"
even though they do no such thing (and, in fact, that article speaks to no actual sports officials, whereas when Major League baseball was asked, it noted that it sees no real threat
And, rather than admit that (1) livestreaming has been around for ages and hasn't really been a serious drag on revenue, and (2) it's not a particularly good user experience for watching broadcast content anyway, various folks in Hollywood lost their minds about these two new services. The main culprit? HBO. After there were a few scattered reports of various Game of Thrones fans using Periscope to broadcast the latest episode of the popular show, HBO decided that it's all Twitter's fault
, and who cares about DMCA safe harbors, something must be done, and Twitter has to do it:
"We are aware of Periscope and have sent takedown notices," an HBO spokeswoman said in a statement. "In general, we feel developers should have tools which proactively prevent mass copyright infringement from occurring on their apps and not be solely reliant upon notifications."
There are two issues there. First are the takedowns -- which is a part of the DMCA. But the second part is asking for Twitter to go Beyond the DMCA
and to start proactively reviewing and policing the content that is streaming over Periscope. This is a bad idea for a whole variety of reasons that both Twitter and HBO should already understand. First, such efforts inevitably lead to takedowns that block important, legitimate, non-infringing speech. Considering how Periscope and Meerkat are designed for livestreaming events right now
, blocking those could lead to important content never seeing the light of day at all. The chilling effects could be massive.
On top of that, there is little to no evidence that unauthorized streams of Game of Thrones
are doing any harm whatsoever. In fact, Game of Thrones
is often the prime example of how unauthorized streams have helped
certain content get more attention and more long-term committed fans. Both a director
on the show and Time Warner's CEO
(who owns HBO) have admitted as much. So why the collective freakout about these new apps?
It seems, as is the tradition among some in Hollywood, any new technology that might possibly be used for some
amount of infringement must be loudly condemned and shamed. Despite the fact that this policy never
works, and tends to just lead to widespread ridicule, it is the only gameplan that the old guard in Hollywood have. They could embrace these things. HBO execs -- especially with the launch of HBO's new streaming services -- could be highlighting how much better
the official streaming experience is than the crappy Periscope/Meerkat experience. But, what fun is that? That, apparently, takes work.