Hey folks! Cody at Altair here. While we’re building what we hope will be your future home for your creative broadcast endeavors, we’d be remiss if we weren’t keeping tabs on the current state of streaming. It should be no surprise that the DMCA is a topic we’ve been talking about with the team and our Visionaries at length. I wanted to take a bit to share my thoughts on the matter at hand, what we’re looking into doing to stay ahead of the curve, and to hopefully set some expectations straight with folks as to who they can look to in addressing the current state, and to help move the needle forward.
What a four letter word.
Okay, it’s an acronym, but you get me. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a piece of copyright law in the United States, but its implications are wider reaching than just in the US, as it implements two treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The intent of this law, and the treaty it was adopted from, was an attempt at putting clear boundaries, guidelines for appropriate use, and remediation of violations of copyright. This law was ratified late in 1998. That’s right, smack dab in the middle of the Dot Com bubble. You know, when using AOL was cool (ish; at least there was AIM), MP3.com was the place to go for new music, the iPod was a big hard drive with a clicky wheel, and LAN parties were still the best way to frag your buddy.
Even in this era, there was criticism that the law put an unfair burden on websites that could potentially host content from outside parties, and put an incredibly unfair burden of proof upon those alleged of uploading content they did not have license to distribute. I remember watching commentary about this piece of legislation as the US Congress was in the process of ratifying it on TechTV. Back then, I was a young sprout technologist, not truly understanding the ramifications, but knowing it would have a significant impact on our world going forward.
This legislation has been around for a long time now: 22 years this past October. One would think by now we’d be pretty good at understanding how to navigate copyright as the world of Social Media has flourished. Even so, the DMCA does have a few saving graces, including the “Safe Harbor” provisions in Section 512 of the legislation. This is one of the reasons we as Altair are even willing to take on the challenge of building a new place for you to bring your content and communities to.
The truth is, the DMCA is a minefield.
Platforms like Altair, and our fellows in the industry already (Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook), have to comply with Section 512’s requirements. This includes the “notice and takedown” procedures that have been the highlight of discussions. Platforms must make it easily available for rights holders to identify and submit that the individual in question does not have the appropriate licenses to distribute the content they are broadcasting, as well as respond quickly to rights holders requests to remove the content in question. Section 512 also outlines the appeals process for rights holders to challenge a takedown notice. Ultimately, it’s a “guilty until proven innocent” model that is difficult to enforce in its current form without bludgeon-level automation. As we’ve all seen, this creates an unhealthy relationship between user-generated content creators and their content platform of choice, as they end up bearing the brunt of frustrations when takedowns happen, regardless of the user or the platform’s fault in the matter.
There have been a number of concerns surrounding the flourish of DMCA takedown requests processed recently. The types of content that are flagged are wide and varied. While the obvious example of non-game music being rebroadcast on platforms is one example of this, these are not the only kinds of audible content we’ve heard of being flagged. From wind sounds in World of Warcraft to in-game music provided by the game itself, to the dreaded false flag of misidentified content, loads of copyrighted content is out there and platforms have various ways of attempting to proactively identify and address it. The landscape is rife with how the rules have been bent or broken in the absence of good guidance, proactive tooling, comprehensive licensing options, and awareness that the digital landscape in the advent of streaming content production is blazing beyond the provisions of existing legislation and treaties.
I’ve been beating on the DMCA for a while here, so one might think I’m advocating to say things like “the recording industry / (insert AAA game publisher) has enough money already! Screw those people, just let us stream!” This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Personal story time. I had a short, but very memorable stint as a music producer, and I care very much for my friends and colleagues in that sector who depend on the proceeds from their music for their livelihoods. I myself currently receive (meager, but legitimate) royalties from the music I’ve released. When I produce music, I often use samples to create my music, and those samples need to be purchased so I have the rights to use them in my creations. Proper attribution, compensation, and support from content creators and their platforms is incredibly important. In my case, without my support, the folks who provided the samples I used can’t continue to create the things that I use to create my things. This is just as true in the streaming world, too.
We have to do better.
The space we’re in has a massive void in the tools and processes we need to be able to be responsible creators, and even in places where tools and processes exist, the lack of knowledge about them makes them effectively useless to creators. We have to do better. This call to action doesn’t rest solely on the backs of creator platforms. However, they do have a clear obligation to their creator base to provide them the things they are best positioned to provide. The outcomes of Twitch’s high visibility DMCA deluge have made it clear they have a long way to go to provide creators with the tools to audit their recorded content, to ensure that DMCA takedown requests are treated with the appropriate care, and to provide sound processes to allow creators to participate in the audit process Section 512 provides.
Altair will learn from these missteps and work to provide a first-class process for rights holders and content creators to come to reasonable conclusions to address these scenarios. I do want to be clear - just because Altair will be a fresh player in the streaming content sector doesn’t mean we’ll be a safe harbor for unlicensed content to be wantonly distributed. Just as much as we would care if a streamer was using art from an artist / graphic designer without proper license and compensation, we care if a musician’s music is being streamed without compensation. The difference we aim to achieve is to be transparent and accountable throughout this process, just as we will with every other facet of our platform. That’s part of what it means to be Mindful - taking into account more than just one’s self when thinking about the content you’re creating.
With the changes our industry needs, platforms and creators aren’t the only ones on the hook. Content Identification Services need to constantly strive to bring context into the equation when presenting their findings to platforms. These platforms serve to try and achieve one of two goals when leveraged: to either prevent content from being uploaded to platforms, or to enable user-generated content to share revenue with license holders in an easy and transparent way. It’s my personal mission to strive for the latter, which gives creators as much freedom as possible in their craft while respecting the hard work that goes into the creations that are used as a part of a creator’s broadcast. Ensuring that Content Identification Services are surfacing confidence data in their detection of potentially infringing content, and using that in the discussion with creators when said content is found proactively will be key to how these types of situations are handled by us.
For the sake of content creators:
Video game publishers, we strongly advocate for clear, easily digestible language for us as content creators to understand how much of a game we can use in our content. In situations where game developers use content that would be risky or costly for their publisher to provide the appropriate licenses permitting streaming content creators to use the entirety of a game’s experience, we strongly advocate for you to provide “stream-safe” modes that disables or provides alternatives to content that cannot be licensed to content creators to stream.
Game streaming showcases true passion for your works, and has been used to generate excitement and potential sales for your creations, both of which can provide you incredible value. Your assistance in ensuring that creators have the rights and guidelines to use your incredibly hard work allows us to bring this out of the nebulous gray area it’s existed in, and allow us to respect your passion for your craft. (Oh, and developers, if you need some folks to create some baller music for your games so that you don’t need to look to license that content, I know a few folks. Hit me up.)
Getting back to Copyright law, it’s time to take a long, hard look at the DMCA and its subsequent revisions, as well as the WIPO treaties, and ask if this is still well suited to ensure all creators are protected going forward, and are afforded the opportunity for a conversation they deserve. The Electronic Frontier Foundation states that the safe harbors are essential for innovation and creation to flourish in the digital landscape, and I couldn’t agree more. Becoming educated on the provisions of the DMCA or your nation’s implementation of the WIPO treaties, learning what parts of said legislation can and should be reconsidered and/or amended, and working with your local government representatives to affect those changes will help to shape the future of how all content creators can exist in our streaming world.
Lastly, this is for my creator friends. Right now…things are scary, and frustrating. We hear you. It’s hard to understand what’s safe to use, what’s not, and how to go forward. The water is as murky as the bend of the Mississippi River where I used to call home (and let me tell you - it’s pretty nasty). You can support your fellow creators by helping them to become more educated and by building repositories of information outlining what games might be dangerous to stream in today’s landscape. As much as I’d love to build that catalog in Altair, I feel like it’s far more important that this information be free and accessible, and not tied to any one platform. If you organize, we’ll be there to help along the way any way we can, and the information you collate could be instrumental in keeping fellow creators and their communities safe, no matter what platform they produce content on. This is one way we help create a Mindful experience for content creation for all, regardless of whether or not you choose to make Altair your home.
Thank you very much for reading. We’re looking forward to moving the needle on streaming content creation with you. Until then, please stay safe, and be awesome to each other.