The Streamlabs (SLOBS) Plagiarism Scandal

Streamlabs, a company that provides software that enables livestreaming, has long been a somewhat controversial figure in the streaming marketplace.

Their main product, Streamlabs OBS (often abbreviated to SLOBS) is built on top of the open-source application OBS it’s been accused of creating confusion by using such a similar name for a commercial product.

However, that saga may be coming to an end. The developers at the OBS Project recently tweeted that they had asked SLOBS to not use the OBS name but that they did so anyway and were “uncooperative at every turn.”

This prompted a response from Streamlabs saying that they are now taking “immediate action” to remove OBS from the product’s name.

However, this back and forth didn’t come out of nowhere. It was hot on the heels of a very different kind of copying scandal, one that involved Streamlabs announcing the launch of a new product using content copied and pasted from one of their biggest competitors.

When Product Launches Go Very Wrong

Earlier this week, it was announced that Streamlabs was teaming up with Twitch to launch Streamlabs Studio on Xbox. This idea was to make it easier for console gamers to stream on sites like Twitch while still accessing many of the tools and services Streamlabs offers.

Almost immediately users noted that the launch page for Streamlabs Studio looked almost exactly the same as the page Streamlabs competitor Lightstream has for their similar product. This was then called out directly by Lighstream on their Twitter.

The similarities are beyond obvious. Not only are the layouts nearly identical, but whole sections of text are also copied. Even the user reviews at the bottom were the same, just with the product name and the reviewer’s name being kept the same.

This was noted especially strongly by a streamer iamBrandon, who was the one responsible for reaching out to the people when he worked at Lightstream.

Streamlabs, for their part, have not denied the copying. Instead, they Tweeted an apology that alleged the copying a “mistake” and said that the text on the language page was just a placeholder that “went into production by error.”

However, while that explanation may be true, it is still not very compelling. While they moved quickly to rectify the problem, the fact that there was an issue at all needs a closer examination.

Accident or Not, a Problem Remains

Over at CopyByte, one of my main jobs is removing plagiarized marketing copy such as what Streamlabs had on its site. This is usually done with a copyright notice, but, in some cases, is done by working directly with the site that uploaded the content.

When that happens, the most common reason given is that the site is “under construction” or “was not meant to be live”. This is such a common reason that, back in May 2020, I wrote an article about how your web developer can land you in legal trouble.

The simple question that one asks Streamlabs is this: Even if the page used was never meant to go live, why did you create an offline version of it using the content and layout from Lightstream? Why was it ever used as a starting point at all, for any draft or version?

When it comes to students and authors, I’m a huge advocate of writing in cleanroom. It’s a process by which you physically separate the work you are creating from outside content.

However, it’s a system that any creator can benefit from. This includes web developement.

But web development does bring its unique challenges. Websites are rarely built from scratch and many, including this one, rely on outside themes and elements as a foundation. However, it’s important to replace all the content that comes with a theme and not use any of the demo content.

That said, it feels like that isn’t what happened here. Either someone at Streamlabs or contracted by them built the page and largely used the Lightstream page as a template, text and all. Though the images and names were changed, the rest was largely the same.

There’s little reason to do this. While it might be handy to mock up a version that’s similar to a competitor for analysis or internal discussion, such a version should never be anywhere near a public-facing server. At the very, very least this was incredibly sloppy and required a breakdown of design and writing conventions at multiple stages.

In short, this is a mistake that not only should never be made, but one that should be impossible to make. Even if we accept Streamlabs answer at face value, it raises almost as many questions as it answers.

Bottom Line

When you are creating, whether it’s an article, a movie, a song or a website, it’s important to keep in mind that proper handling out outside content is part of the creation process, not something you clean up after.

It’s also crucial to remember that any creation you have could become public, so it’s important to bake good ethics into the entire process.

For Streamlabs, the problem they face is massive. The streaming community is very insular and goodwill is critical. Streamers won’t use a product if it is bad or is seen as having bad ethics. Between this and the issue with OBS, Streamlabs has a lot of ground to make up.

Their actions in changing the name and quickly removing this content are good first steps, but they are just first steps. Over the coming months and years, they’ll need to repair their brand by treating both their customers and their competitors with heightened respect.

One good step in that process would be revamping their processes and policies for web development. Making real, transparent changes and go a long way to repairing the damage.

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