Recently, Twitch has seen significant growth in the “TV Meta” in which streamers hold a watch party of certain content with their viewers. This has led to several high-profile Twitch streamers receiving DMCA takedown notices for streaming popular anime titles such as DeathNote and The Last Airbender, resulting in limited bans from Twitch ranging from a few days to a month.
For full-time streamers, being banned from a streaming platform can have significant economic consequences. These can be compounded by the potential of a copyright infringement lawsuit, in which willful infringement can lead to statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringing work.
Unfortunately, there is not a simple path to licensing for most anime content. Many streamers conflate video game publishers’ views on streaming with anime creators’ views, which is often not accurate. Several factors are at play when licensing anime. Intellectual property rights for anime are sometimes held by Japanese conglomerates, and there can be major cultural issues at play. For example, Japanese IP management committees may find that your proposed use of their content is offensive or culturally degrading. Moreover, these IP rights are oftentimes controlled by various entities who provide documentation only in the original Japanese, which is an enormous barrier to entry for most global streamers.
Larger IP management groups may represent the various IP owners by medium (manga, anime, theatrical), and they determine who licenses original Japanese anime content — this, in part, allows them to control the integrity of their content across all distribution channels. Some management organizations such Funimation and Crunchyroll may own exclusive rights by language or territory, and these geographic divisions may create an additional barrier to use.
Even when a streamer has secured the video content, they must also make sure that they’ve properly licensed subtitles/dubbed voice-overs from the appropriate entity for the relevant language. For English dubs, they may further be subject to reuse fees under various union agreements (most notably SAG-AFTRA).
In short, Japanese IP holders are notoriously protective of their content. They are aggressive enforcers and licensing can be a morass of red-tape that is likely beyond the capabilities of most Twitch streamers. However, if you are a streamer that has a top-tier viewership numbers, data suggests that Japanese IP holders are willing to entertain offers for licensing. Anyone considering this route would be best served by hiring counsel to walk through the various licensing agencies and agreements.
For more information on this article and this topic, contact Christopher L. Harbin.