From last year’s experience, I would like to accumulate in this article ten tips that YouTubers and streamers on the Twitch platform should seek legal advice from experienced lawyers. This is strongly recommended to anyone who plans to make money with streaming. The scope and demand are, of course, variable.
Business registration and organisation:
As a rule, streamers who want to use the YouTube or Twitch (but also all other streaming platforms), whether live or not, will be forced to sign up for a business. While filling out the one-page form is often still to be done with manageable effort, all other accompanying circumstances may be an annoying plague. Social security, the tax office or various commercial insurance companies are often to be considered. It is not uncommon for deadlines to run and one should have experience with working methods, forms and conditions for various applications and the like. A lot of it is safe to do with Google, but stumbling blocks lurk in many places. Liability, fines and other claims from third parties can be avoided quickly.
Obligations arising from the UWG in the broadest sense include the imprint obligation, the obligation to indicate advertising or the handling of products, competitors or the platform as such. Numerous traps can lurk here, which sooner or later lead to warnings from competitors and in which not only high legal fees, but possibly also claims for damages threaten. A careful approach and consultation with the lawyer of the trust can not only spare trouble at an early stage, but at best can even show alternatives and at the same time radiate professionalism towards potential advertisers.
A problem area in the streaming business that should not be underestimated is copyright. Often enough, videos are produced and uploaded, especially in the field of computer games or other digital products, which may, strictly speaking, affect the copyright of third parties. While the interest of rightholders in the advertising space often goes so far as to tolerate use, this tolerance can also have its limits. Poor evaluation of a movie, game, or other product could lead the respective rights holder to take action against the streamer on the basis of trademark or copyright law. There are ways and means of avoiding such risks, both legally and in the organisation of one’s own trade.
Some manufacturers, such as Nintendo, sometimes prohibit the use of their own products.
Sponsorship contracts and the like
The aim of many streamers is to live off their own activities. Not only should meaningful contracts be concluded with potential advertisers, but also the terms and conditions of the streaming portals should be respected. If, as a streamer, you are already large enough to join a network, there are many key points to be considered when negotiating the relevant contracts, which relate to duties and rights as well as the handling of other sponsors, which ultimately revenue as a streamer.
In addition, this type of contract may also concern issues of bogus self-employment, tax obligations and social security. Such questions have often been ignored and have led to great lamentations and often additional payments after a few years.
Bad contracts can quickly cost a lot of money here. Lack of experience in negotiating such contracts often leads to being literally “ripped off”.
Dealing with marketing tools
The handling of marketing tools can affect numerous legal issues in competition law, but also with manufacturers. For example, there are legal norms to be observed in sweepstakes as well as for the use of various tools for the retention and rewarding of spectators on the Twitch platform. This starts with questions of responsibility and ends with those in the area of data protection. If you also run social media channels as a streamer, for example on Instagram or Twitter, there can be some impasses lurking here, which would be quickly done with a short consultation by a professional.
If you as a streamer are already big enough to consider whether you need employees or helpers, you don’t just have questions about the contracts with these people, how you deal with them (both in terms of social security law and taxes) or how to pay them. There may also be problems with co-authorship quickly. These questions could then quickly lead to consideration as to whether the professionalization of one’s own trade does not make it useful to set up a UG or even a limited liability company, which not only results in numerous options with sponsors and other partners, arrangements should also be made in the organisation.
In the meantime, there are providers and agencies for a wide range of services for many areas of streaming. This starts with “Manager” and ends with providers for thumbnails, graphic artists and the like. Contracts with these agencies or providers should be well reviewed and adjusted in case of doubt.
Even if the problem of music, and soundtracks is, of course, part of the broadest sense of the word about copyright, I dedicate a separate point to this. Especially with live streams, the problem can occur that music or a soundtrack is played in the background. While this can often be a copyright infringement, it is often more relevant that it may subsequently lead to higher fees for streaming providers, eliminate advertising costs altogether, or, in the worst case, even entire channels be deleted. Here it is absolutely necessary to pay careful attention to local legal bases and, of course, to the general terms and conditions of the portals. Of course, consulting with your own lawyer can never hurt.
Last year, a very specific German problem came to the fore with large streamers, namely the broadcasting licence. So far, only the Twitch channels have been threatened by a broadcasting license by major streamers – but recently, Letsplayer, with a few hundred viewers, has also been targeted by state media outlets.
Those who believed that the debate about a radio licence for live streaming channels had calmed down are thus subject to a profound error. Here we have to examine carefully how this duty can be circumvented in case of doubt and what is involved in letters from the state media institutions. In case of doubt, a circumstance can lead not only to fines, but to complete prohibitions of one’s own trade, including subsequent problems of being allowed to run further trades in the future.
In the case of streamers who not only bring themselves or virtual products to the viewers’ computer screens, but publish things such as interviews, live streams of events and the like, questions arise of data protection and Personality rights. In these cases, careful planning or protection, including written consent, is urgently required. The disregard of these rights of third parties can quickly lead to sensitive fines or even paid warnings. The same applies, of course, to statements made about other streamers, other persons, political statements about parties and the like.
The protection of minors is also an issue that streamers of computer games should not neglect. This is especially true for computer games, which are very interesting in esports, such as CS: GO and Call of Duty. In case of doubt, not only could there be warnings from organisations that supervise the protection of minors, but also the threat of obligations, for example with regard to time limits.
The warning possibilities are manifold and it is precisely the often lack of experience of streamers in dealing with things such as permits or taxes or with other legal norms that lead time and again to high claims for damages, legal annoyances or simply to the obstruction of one’s own trade and thus of earning opportunities. However, if you as a streamer do not want to “get upset” with legal bases and obligations or risk being treated unfairly by sponsors etc., consulting an experienced lawyer is a good idea. This optimally not only keeps trouble away from the provider, but also ensures that the positive effects for the own trade outweigh the positive effects.