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Monday, February 23, 2015

[ESports] Streaming went and got complicated

Earlier today Kotaku ran a piece on an issue emerging in the streaming world. In short, Faker, a professional LoL player, has signed a deal with streaming service Azubu to only stream his games using their service. However, another user, StarLordLucian, is using a Riot-approved mod to stream Faker's games on Twitch using League's built-in spectator mode. Thus Twitch users get the full benefit of the stream, sans the player's image and commentary.

Naturally Azubu sought to put a stop to this and issued a DMCA note that didn't stick. The thing is, legally speaking the game footage is owned by Riot. Streaming has always occupied an interesting space similar to fanfiction where it is technically copyright infringement but benefits the intellectual property owner enough that they don't bother shutting it down. After all it's usually not good business to alienate your fans when they're promoting your work for free.

Riot president Marc Merrill feels that StarLordLucian's conduct is harassment and bullying, and I think in other situations he would have a point. Perhaps Mr. Merrill was misinformed about the issue, because spectating and streaming someone against their will could easily become a form of bullying. Imagine if someone followed you around in public with a camera 24/7 and broadcast that online. In the real world this would quickly turn into harassment. Alternatively, if someone picked a particularly low-skill League player and decided to follow them around and stream their games for public ridicule, that would essentially be a form of bullying. Riot would be right to put a stop to that. Neither are the case in this situation because the stream is being rebroadcast by a fan for non-malicious viewing.*

Instead Mr. Merrill needs to address the issue of ownership of a stream and how much players have a right to control how footage of their play is used. Historically ownership of sports footage has not been an issue because the league owns the footage and heavily manages its use, but in this situation the owner of the sport/footage (Riot) has been more permissive in allowing third parties to stream.

Faker's team has issued a statement asking that the stream end, but this doesn't prove it to be harassment as we have yet to hear directly from the player in question. Faker's team also did not specifically address the harassment/bullying concern and instead focused on the team's financial concerns in footage of their play and Faker's interest in his own brand.

This raises concerns about whether players should have the right to "opt-out" of showing up in streams (or spectator mode), and what authority and ownership these multimillion dollar stream hosts have over the content. Should Azubu be able to issue DMCA claims to copycat streams of players it has signed a deal with when Riot is the one that owns the footage? If I'm a player in one of those games and I'm streaming myself could I end up on the wrong end of a DMCA claim from them?

At the moment, probably not on both cases, but as Kotaku notes this issue is one that might spur Riot into rewriting some of their streaming policies. I wouldn't be overly surprised if their new rules involve requiring you stream your OWN games or not repeatedly stream the same individual X times in a row. Too strict of rules could chill streaming, a major component in esports' success and could drive viewers to other games.

*If this is indeed being done with malicious intent, then Riot should immediately put a stop to this.

1 comment:

  1. It's certainly an interesting development. We're still in a wild west period, so I could see it going either way. Personally, I don't mind it being allowed the way it is currently, nor do I really want opt-out options. I think the idea of signing an exclusive contract to STREAM something you don't own is completely absurd and I don't see revenue being significantly hurt when people would presumably be watching for the personalities as well as the games themselves.