Last night, Mychal “Trihex” Jefferson was one of three influential gamers banned from Twitch for 24 hours because he live-streamed the second Democratic debate. Although he understands why he was banned, he says he thought providing commentary was fair use — and that he thought it was important to make gamers realize how much politics matter.
Twitch has an ongoing problem with people streaming copyrighted content. Like every other platform, Twitch is subject to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, which was passed in 1998. Essentially, it protects platforms from liability when their users upload copyrighted material, provided they take action to remove the offending content. Fair use, on the other hand, is a legal doctrine that allows for unlicensed use of copyrighted material in some cases, provided that the new work in question is transformative. (There are four factors that are considered in making the determination of whether a work is protected under fair use.) Criticism and comment are generally both covered under fair use.
Because CNN was hosting the second debate, they owned the rights to the entire production; they sent a takedown notice to Twitch, which then handed out suspensions to the offending streamers. Three prominent streamers in particular were affected: Mychal “Trihex” Jefferson (who has around 395,000 followers), Steven “Destiny” Bonnell (433,000), and Hasan “HasanAbi” Piker (121,000).
The reason for the suspension was a DMCA takedown notice issued by Time Warner, whose channel CNN was exclusively hosting the debate, according to a tweet from Jefferson. For Twitch streamers, a copyright claim means a stream takedown, which in turn means a suspension and then a channel strike. Three strikes on a channel equals a permanent ban. Twitch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For Jefferson, who I got in touch with during his suspension, the copyright notice and takedown got him a permanent strike on his channel. “Obviously I was pretty tilted at that time,” he says. The problem, as he saw it, was fair use: Jefferson was streaming the debate, but was providing commentary over it. About 40 minutes in, Twitch took his stream down in response to Time Warner’s claim. He does, however, say he gets why it had to happen, and he isn’t going to fight the claim — despite the permanent strike on his channel. “Like, what can I do. I’m going to scrounge up some like $25,000 rent a lawyer and get completely destroyed before I even enter the courtroom?”
“I’m not in denial that I’m in the wrong for rebroadcasting their content,” he continued. But he thought CNN might see it as more publicity for the debate itself.
Even so, for Jefferson, the debate stream was about more than getting people to watch the debate. He was inspired in 2016 by Bernie Sanders — and he wanted to inspire other gamers to get involved politically as well. “He thinks unlike any other politician I’ve seen before,” Jefferson says of Sanders. His support for the candidate led him to become, in his words, a “policy substance-obsessed political junkie.” A year later, he became more vocal about politics on his stream, which he says felt like a risk because of how traditionalist gamer culture can be. He felt it was true to his character, though, and so he pushed forward. “I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history,” Jefferson says.
Jefferson says that he’s seeing more political voices on the platform. His goal in broadcasting the debate was to draw other people in, especially ones who might not otherwise know the debate was taking place. Because, for him, gaming is inextricably linked to politics. “I don’t believe in the facade that there’s actually an apolitical gamer,” he says. “You’re just like ultimately enabling the status quo whenever you choose to put your head in the sand like an ostrich and ignore why everything is happening.”
Jefferson does plan to cover future debates, albeit in a different way — maybe, next time, more like a podcast. Above all, he wants people to feel involved, because he wants people to feel some kind of hope.