On February 25, CBS News hosted the last democratic presidential debate ahead of the all-important Super Tuesday primary. The debate was officially licensed for broadcast on Twitter and the CBS News website, but there was an even wider range of live commentary channels as Twitch streamers responded to the arguments in real time.
However, if you were tuned to one of these channels, you may have received an unpleasant surprise halfway through the show.
In the course of the debates, popular broadcasters such as Chapo Trap House and Mychal "Trihex" Jefferson were hit by the suspensions after their streams received copyright strikes for running their own debate coverage. For Twitch, these live commentary tracks were pirated copies of copyrighted content. But according to Twitch investigations, channels that were shut down by a group called Praxis Political were wrong.
According to Twitch:
Twitch restores access to each account and removes any strikes attributed to a channel related to the notification with immediate effect. We regret that a wrong third party notice has disturbed one of our streamers, and we appreciate anyone who has raised concerns about Praxis Political. The security of our community is a top priority and it is unacceptable to target people with false claims. The investigation into the actor who submitted the notifications continues.
"I am a political activist."
At first, streamers like Trihex believed that their content was removed at the behest of CBS News. CBS paid for the licensing rights to the debate, and each of these streams used at least some content owned by the network. On the other hand, streamers could argue that their work is being used fairly as they make an ongoing comment on public political speech. However, the copyright removal system often ends live video without a significant possibility of disagreement, and many streamers believe that the suspension system has trampled on its ability to express itself politically.
"I am a political activist and I believe that this is the most important choice in our lives," Trihex told The Verge. "I use my platform in its most productive form to raise awareness of smears, misinformation and my general commitment to Bernie Sanders."
Streamers like Trihex have been the subject of copyright infringement debates in the past. Last August, Time Warner turned off similar streams on behalf of CNN, resulting in a strike and suspension for every offensive channel. When the channel is locked, owners cannot post new content and their audience cannot view past streams until the lock is unlocked. If a channel receives three hits, it is permanently blocked.
"I refuse to be silenced," Trihex told The Verge. "The oppression tactics that we are currently seeing in the new wave of progressive media and political reporting are only a sign that they are nervous, that they cannot keep up with the innovation and authenticity of youth."
Twitch and other platforms like YouTube have struggled for years to reconcile the abolition of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and fair use. Not only is it difficult to sort legitimate claims, the system has also been misused due to incorrect acceptance claims.
Twitter, a CBS News democratic debating partner, had even put down its original stream of the CBS Broadcasting Inc. event. The feed was unavailable for approximately 10 minutes at the beginning of the debate before resuming.
Rod Breslau, an esports consultant and journalist, initially noted that Political Praxis Legal, which allegedly filed the DMCA claims against the streamers on behalf of CBS News, "cleaned its entire website and went offline".
CBS News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Influencers, streamers and YouTubers have become surprisingly strong players in the last election cycle. Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and former candidate Andrew Yang all appeared on Joe Rogan's podcast this election season, and earlier this year Rogan announced that he was supporting Sanders.
However, the copyright claims system ensures that after events like last night's debate, these outlets are still exposed to larger rights holders. "The real elephant in the room here is whether any of these debates about public elections and offices should be privatized at all," said Trihex. "The fact that this is not at all on C-SPAN or in the public domain … is really crazy for me."