If you’re planning to start streaming on Twitch (or already streaming there), you have to know what content is copyright protected and what isn’t. While you might think it’s obvious what you should and shouldn’t use, it’s not always so easy. Even the most careful creators can end up getting copyright strikes on their channel. What appears copyright free, like free music on YouTube, may seem like it’s okay to use on Twitch. However, it could lead to a DMCA takedown and a strike on your channel. It’s important to take the time to understand copyright rules so you can protect yourself and your channel.

When content is copyrighted, that means it’s someone else’s intellectual property. The owners retain exclusive rights to use their work and can license others to use it for free or for a price. Copyright applies to most forms of creative work, such as music, graphics, images and clips from streams.

Twitch’s copyright policy in a nutshell

Twitch offers creators a list of content it considers violations of copyright policy. Avoid using anything listed here unless you have permission from the owner to use it or it falls under fair use:

  • Content made by other creators
  • Pirated games or content from unauthorized private servers
  • Content from other sites
  • Movies, television shows or sports matches
  • Music you don’t own the rights to

Punishment for violating copyright policies

If caught using content licensed to someone else without permission, they can send you a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown. Twitch will then act on those notifications under the DMCA guidelines. For every copyright violation, you’ll receive a strike on your Twitch channel. If you receive three strikes on your account, Twitch will permanently delete your account. Strikes do eventually expire, but Twitch isn’t open about when they do. According to its policy, it depends on the date it was issued and the account’s standing with the platform.

However, a DMCA takedown doesn’t automatically prove you’ve engaged in copyright infringement. If you are wrongly sent a DMCA takedown and have the legal right to stream the content in question, you can send a counter-notification or talk with the copyright holder to remove their claim.

How to avoid getting a DMCA takedown notice

No streamer, not even the top creators, are safe from DMCA takedowns. It’s essential to take the proper steps to protect your channel and know your rights as a creator.

First and foremost, don’t use any content you don’t know for sure you have the right to use on stream. This includes playing copyrighted music or watching movies live with your audience. If you’ve streamed using copyrighted material in the past, you have to delete your VODs to avoid strikes. Just because you haven’t received a strike yet doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. You don’t want to end up receiving three strikes overnight and losing your channel.

You can choose to keep your VODs unpublished by default to keep your recordings from being flagged. Image courtesy: Twitch

Some top streamers have used a workaround that allowed them to play copyrighted music live on stream. They would play the music during their stream and instantly delete the VOD afterward. For the most part, it works, but those using this workaround are taking a huge risk. There are cases where streamers are hit with a live DMCA takedown while streaming the material. Typically strikes come from VODs infringing on copyrighted material, but live streams can land you with a strike as well. For example, the highly popular Twitch streamer xQc, was live DMCAed when he watched a few hours of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics live on stream. It’s a risk to your channel, and you should probably avoid it.

If you want to use anything copyrighted, you need to earn access before using the content on stream. Some artists will give you permission to stream their music or work. Be sure whoever you get permission from is the one who handles the licensing for the content.

How to find copyright-free music for Twitch

Copyrighted music is one of the major culprits for streamers receiving DMCA takedowns. Twitch offers its own soundtrack tool that allows you to play music from artists that have a licensing deal with Twitch. Everything offered in the tool’s library is safe to play on steam. However, the soundtracks in this tool aren’t licensed for recording. That means you will have to get licensing rights to have them included in your VODs.

On YouTube, most licenses are listed in the video’s description. Though, just because a video doesn’t include copyright information doesn’t mean it’s free of copyright.

Copyright-free music for Twitch streams is available on YouTube, but it’s hard to know what songs are up for grabs. Typically, YouTube displays the name of the license owner in the video’s description. Songs that don’t have copyright typically don’t have this in their descriptions. However, just because a song doesn’t indicate an owner doesn’t mean it’s copyright-free. So, if you plan to use YouTube to stream music, double-check that it is indeed free to use.

Protect your channel

When it comes down to it, only stream content that you know you can legally use on stream. If you’re unsure, it’s best not to use it.