Metallica and Twitch Are in the Copyright News Again

Sometimes, time is truly a flat circle. The band Metallica played live for the gaming convention BlizzCon. The convention, as is de rigueur in the pandemic, was online. So the performance was livestreamed. That’s when things got weird.

On Blizzard’s Twitch and YouTube channels, the music was transmitted live, with no problem. But the official Twitch gaming channel went another way. Apparently fearful of copyright issues, Twitch played… something else. Twitch’s placeholder music was very ice-cream-truck-esque.

It was all the weirder because the video stream was left intact. It was just the music that was replaced. For whatever reason, it seems Twitch had the rights to rebroadcast the stream but not to Metallica’s music. Or it was simply unsure whether it had the rights or not, and opted to be safe.

Which is more than fair, given Metallica’s particular history. Way back in the early 2000s, when digital music was just getting off the ground, Metallica put themselves on the frontlines of the fight against downloads, launching high-profile lawsuits and testifying in front of Congress. Their actions led, at least partially, to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that is the cornerstone of Internet law today.

Twitch had every reason to take no chances with Metallica music. It also had every reason to be particularly careful about music on its service in general. Last year, Twitch made headlines for an ill-executed drive to respond to DMCA takedowns, which included a strange notice to users that it was unilaterally deleting content and that it understood that this took away their ability to counter-notice.  It was the result, claimed Twitch, of a sudden influx of music-related takedowns and fears of being sued by the music labels sending them.

The concern that they had given up their safe harbor protections last year may explain why this year, Twitch’s copyright censor trigger finger was a little, well, twitchy.

February 19, 2021