On February 25th, CBS News hosted the last Democratic presidential debate ahead of the vastly important Super Tuesday primaries. The debate was officially licensed to broadcast on Twitter and CBS News’ website, but there was an even broader reach of live commentary channels as Twitch streamers reacted to the arguments in real time.
But if you were tuned in to one of those channels, you may have gotten an unpleasant surprise halfway through the broadcast.
As the debates progressed, popular channels like Chapo Trap House and Mychal “Trihex” Jefferson were hit with the suspensions after their streams received copyright strikes for hosting their own debate coverage. As far as Twitch was concerned, those live commentary tracks were pirating copyright-protected content. But after investigations by Twitch, channels that received takedowns by a group called Praxis Political were false.
According to Twitch:
Twitch is reinstating access to each account and removing any strike attributed to a channel in connection with the notice, effective immediately. We regret that a false notice from a 3rd party disrupted any of our streamers and appreciate all who alerted us to the concerns about Praxis Political. The safety of our community is a top priority and it is unacceptable to target folks with false claims. The investigation continues as to the actor that submitted the notices.
“I’m a political activist”
At first, streamers like Trihex believed that their content was taken down at the behest of CBS News. CBS paid for the licensing rights to the debate, and each of these streams did use at least some content that’s owned by the network. On the other hand, streamers could argue that their work falls under fair use since they’re providing a running commentary on public political speech. The copyright takedown system, though, often terminates live videos without a meaningful chance for disagreement, and many streamers feel the suspension system has trampled their ability to express themselves politically.
“I’m a political activist and I believe that this is the most important election of our lifetimes,” Trihex told The Verge. “I’m using my platform at its most productive capabilities to spread awareness of smears, misinformation, and my general advocacy for Bernie Sanders.”
Streamers like Trihex have been hit with debate copyright strikes in the past. Last August, Time Warner struck down similar streams on behalf of CNN, resulting in a strike and a suspension for each offending channel. When channel is suspended, owners can’t post new content, and their audience can’t view past streams until the suspension lifts. If a channel receives three strikes, it is permanently banned.
“I refuse to be silenced,” Trihex told The Verge. “The suppression tactics that we’re seeing right now in the new wave of progressive media and political coverage, it’s only a sign that they’re nervous that they can’t match the innovation and the authenticity of the youth.”
Twitch and other platforms like YouTube have struggled to balance Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedowns and fair use for years. Not only is it difficult to sort through legitimate claims, but the system has also suffered from abuse through fake takedown claims.
Twitter, a CBS News Democratic debate partner, even had its original stream of the event struck down by CBS Broadcasting Inc. The feed was down for around 10 minutes at the top of the debate before it was reinstated.
Rod Breslau, an esports consultant and journalist, first noted that Political Praxis Legal, which allegedly filed the DMCA claims against the streamers on behalf of CBS News, had “scrubbed its entire webpage and gone offline.”
CBS News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Influencers, streamers, and YouTubers have become surprisingly powerful players in the latest election cycle. Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and former candidate Andrew Yang all made appearances on Joe Rogan’s podcast this election season, and earlier this year, Rogan announced that he was endorsing Sanders.
Still, the copyright claim system ensures that those outlets are still at the mercy of larger rights-holders after events like last night’s debate. “The real elephant in the room here is whether any of this debate coverage going towards public election and office should be privatized at all,” Trihex said. “The fact that this is not on C-SPAN or in the public domain at all… is actually bonkers to me.”