There’s been a controversy unfolding on Twitch in recent months. While it revolves specifically around “react” videos and the streamers who create them, it’s important for all streamers. Understanding the Twitch community rules and how Twitch enforces them is the best way to prevent damage to your channel or brand. In this case, it’s going to revolve around the DMCA.

The intent of the original Copyright Act was to promote art and culture. It grants ownership of original works to the author. This allows the author to be the benefactor of any profits related to their work. As the owner, a creator can enter into contracts that allow others to share in the profits. For example, songwriters can allow someone else to perform their music, and writers can contract with publishing houses. It also creates a path for copyright owners to pursue legal action against anyone who infringes on their right to profit.

In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It was later incorporated into the Copyright Act in 2000. The DMCA’s underlying intention is to further protect copyright owners from infringements against their owned content on digital platforms. This extends to video streaming, of course. React videos — and streamers who make them — fall into a new gray area. Currently, it’s causing drama in the online community and, in some cases, leading to direct legal actions from powerful companies.

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How is this applied to react videos? 

Arguably, the first big “react videos” might have been Mystery Science Theater 3000, an American television comedy series launched in 1988. The premise was ridiculous. A man was imprisoned by mad scientists. They forced him to watch “B” movies while the scientists monitored his reactions. He built some robots to keep himself occupied. He and his robot companions would watch the movies and jeer, heckle and mock the actors, plots, directors and scenes. It’s possible that the producers gained permission from the copyright owners for all of the movies they played. However, it may have been mostly unnecessary because of “fair use” rules. If you are adding commentary, critiquing or otherwise transforming it into your own content, this is a fair use of the material. Fair use does not infringe on the copyright. 

A few years ago, Viacom sued YouTube for not managing DMCA policies. Viacom claimed that YouTube was responsible for infringements by users across the platform. The court ruled in favor of YouTube. Despite the win, YouTube created a systematic “Content ID” tool. There was a massive crackdown on DMCA infringements. Copyright claims and strikes affected thousands of content creators.

Currently, Twitch is going through a similarly painful problem, specifically with react streams. Twitch streamers are streaming themselves watching — and reacting to — other videos. In many cases, these Twitch creators react to copyrighted movies and television shows. Many creators argue that the “reaction” is enough to be considered adding commentary or transforming content? Additionally, their reaction to the content drives their viewers to the content they’re watching. For instance, if a streamer reacts to a television, they’re exposing their audience to the show. This might encourage their audience to invest time into the show outside of the stream.

On the opposite side of the argument, people say that it’s a lazy form of content that does more harm than good. For instance, they say even though a few audience members may check out a movie or show afterward, a large majority won’t watch the content again. Ultimately, this means the production company will receive revenue for just the streamer’s viewing, even though 10K people may watch the show on the streamer’s broadcast.

Why would streamers even want to make react videos?

A handful of factors contribute to the popularity of creating react videos. First, much of the algorithms revolve around hashtags. Tagging your content can give you a quick boost in searches and systematic recommendations. Second, to become one of the top broadcasters, you need around 250 hours of streaming content per month. It makes sense that creators will occasionally run out of fresh ideas or get burned out on their usual content. A few shows or movies per week can rack up those hours with minimal effort. Third, in the wake of pandemic stay-home orders, people have become comfortable with online live “watch parties” as a way to get together with friends and watch a show. Watching your fave streamer watching their fave show feels a bit like that. From the streamer’s perspective, that’s good business because these connections create loyalty from your followers.

What’s the buzz from viewers and creators? 

One popular creator, Imane “Pokimane” Anys, served a two-day ban from the platform for Twitch DMCA infringements. She hopes one day mainstream copyright holders and content creators can one day reach a deal that would allow streamers to react to content legally.

Still, many streamers on Twitch actively avoid reacting to mainstream content, like movies and TV shows. Instead, they react to other creators’ videos. This comes with its own heap of controversy, but most of the time, DMCA rule isn’t involved here.

To react, or not to react?

Whether you choose to make react content or not is up to you. However, knowing what is and isn’t allowed is key to ensuring you don’t run into trouble down the line. Weigh the pros and cons and make the right decision for you and your community.