In music history and, maybe more importantly, copyright law, Metallica holds a special place. In the 1980s, the band helped popularize heavy metal music. To that end, virtually every music lover recognizes at least the song “Enter Sandman,” regardless of the fan’s musical preferences. In addition, the band made headlines in 2000 against Napster for peer-to-peer file sharing copyright infringement. As a result, Metallica helped take down Napster and shape online copyright infringement policies for decades to come. This week, some of those policies came back to haunt the band, as Twitch shut down a live Metallica performance.
Metallica Performs at BlizzCon
Video game company Blizzard Entertainment held its annual BlizzCon conference on February 20, 2021. Typically a fun in-person event, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced Blizzard to rethink its conference. Instead of having a limited-attendance in-person conference, Blizzard opted for an online stream of its presentations. However, rather than just streaming gaming news conferences and trailers, Blizzard decided to mix in entertainment performances; of course, during an in-person conference, such performances would be standard. However, in 2021, the new normal includes watching streamed performances in empty studios.
DMCA and Online Copyright Complaints
One of the performances included the still-popular band Metallica. Of note, Metallica now owns the rights to its own music catalog, after a deal with the Warner Records label expired in 2012. Under copyright law, the copyright owner holds a bundle of rights to their work; this includes the right to limit live performances of a song. Copyright owners can even enlist the provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to remove digital infringing content.
As a platform, Twitch is very familiar with the DMCA; copyright owners routinely file complaints to remove songs from live streams. As such, when Metallica launched into the song “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Twitch scrambled to mute the music. Even though Metallica was performing its own song on Blizzard’s official Twitch channel, Twitch feared another DMCA takedown complaint. After all, Metallica is pretty litigious with copyrights! So, the world will forever enjoy this video of heavy metal guitars being replaced by lighthearted elevator music.
The Need for the Law to Constantly Evolve
While this episode is very silly and funny, it highlights the need for copyright law to move into the 21st century. We need a common sense balance between the peer-to-peer sharing of the 1990s, and the DMCA policies of today. Hopefully the law continues to catch up to technology and carve out some simple, low-cost streaming rights.
Under the DMCA, platforms must take steps to prevent copyright infringement from being hosted on their sites. As such, to avoid liability for copyright infringement, platforms like Twitch must provide mechanism for copyright takedowns.
Until 2012, Warner Records owned Metallica’s catalogue. However, now Metallica owns its own music under the partnership We’re Only In It For The Music, and distributes music through its record label Blackened Records.