Video Game Streamer Twitch Sues Over Bots Artificially Inflating Broadcasters' Popularity

The gamer-watching platform says it needs to protect a "fair playing field."
@twitch/Twitter

It's a new day in the entertainment industry, and few lawsuits speak to where things are heading for better or worse like the one filed on Friday by Twitch Interactive, the Amazon.com subsidiary that allows users to watch others play video games. With more than 100 million users, Twitch is massively successful, but according to a complaint filed in California federal court, there's bad apples beneath the surface. Specifically, bots.

Users on Twitch can be broadcasters and there's about 1.5 million of them. Some are more popular than others, and discoverability is certainly paramount. Through a partnership program, some of the broadcasters with the strongest viewership are entitled to share in the ad revenue. The program helps incentivize content, which brings more users, which brings more money.

"Defendants threaten to disrupt this cycle," states the complaint filed by attorneys at Perkins Coie. "Defendants design, sell, and deploy bot services — software that mimics the behavior of real users. These bot services capitalize on Twitch broadcasters’ desire to become popular on Twitch and to become Partners by promising shortcuts to both. Defendants offer bot services intended to deceive Twitch into believing that broadcasters are more popular than they really are. Defendants claim that their services will artificially inflate broadcasters’ viewership to make their channels appear higher in directories and trick Twitch into accepting broadcasters into the Partnership Program, with its promise of additional revenue."

Many popular digital services, including Twitter, have bots. 

Here, Twitch is going after individuals like Erik Bouchouev and Justin Johnston, who are allegedly guaranteeing that broadcasters gain a specific number of new followers.

The harm alleged from these bots, according to Twitch, is that users are misled about a broadcasters' true popularity and "have the potential to wrongfully divert viewership and revenues to broadcasters who have falsely inflated statistics."

In some respects, this has hallmarks of lawsuits brought by Google against AdSense publishers for click fraud. But the newest lawsuit is certainly expansive. Twitch is claiming trademark infringement, cybersquatting, computer fraud and abuse, tortious interference, unfair competition, fraud and violation of the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act.

Twitch is sending a message that it won't tolerate bad actors in a stated effort to "protect its fair playing field for broadcasters, preserve the quality of social interactions on its service, and repair the damage caused to Twitch’s goodwill with its users."

Here's the full 35-page complaint:

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