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Report: Phony DMCA claims nuked Twitch streams of the Democratic debate

Twitch was fooled and the perpetrators vanished

CBS News... Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/CBS via Getty Images
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

When intellectual property is being streamed illegally online, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows rights holders to force platforms like Twitch to take swift action. But it’s surprisingly easy to misuse the DMCA system to silence critics. That’s reportedly precisely what happened this week, as several high-profile streamers were taken offline and temporarily banned from Twitch while streaming the Democratic debate.

As Vice reports, this isn’t just a case of simple abuse. The people behind those DMCA claims misrepresented themselves. Then they pulled down their website, turned off their email address, and practically vanished into thin air. Here’s how it went down.

Just as the debate itself was gathering momentum, an organization calling itself Praxis Political issued multiple DMCA claims against popular Twitch streamers. It claimed to represent CBS, which was hosting the debate on television. Twitch acted quickly, pulling down multiple streams and issuing temporary bans.

But Praxis didn’t represent CBS. In fact, no one’s even sure who or what Praxis is.

“Twitch’s investigation has determined that the alleged copyright infringement notices directed to channels from Praxis Political are false,” Twitch told Vice in a statement. “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.”

Meanwhile, Praxis itself is simply gone. While you can still reach a cached version of its website, there’s little information about the company available online. Its domain is protected by a registry service, and its email address has been turned off.

It’s helpful to look carefully at the outrage that these bans evoked. Not everyone is simply angry at Praxis, whoever they are.

“I didn’t use audio, and only show subtitles to sync WATCHING YOUR PROGRAMMING,” said speedrunner Michael “Trihex” Jefferson in a tweet. “Democracy at its finest. Privatized events for public election and then throw their weight around to bully.”

While the debates were available for free in many different places online, some folks’ immediate gut reaction to these Twitch bans was to get angry at a system that allowed this to happen in the first place.

Armchair conspiracy theorists are sure to point out that United States intelligence believes Russia has a vested interest in interfering with our democratic processes. Sowing dissent and dissatisfaction by hitting poorly protected targets is cheap and, as this week’s Twitch bans showed, surprisingly easy. But before you jump to conclusions, you must first understand that the DMCA system itself is broken. That’s been proved time and again in the world of gaming, as developers and publishers have employed it to suppress criticism and remove games from online stores.

It doesn’t take a state intelligence apparatus to do something like this. Like a Jenga tower, all it takes is someone looking carefully at where the weight of power sits, and for them to apply pressure where it is needed, to unbalance the whole thing.