The Artist Rights Alliance (ARA) wants Amazon-owned livestreaming service Twitch to account for why it doesn’t licence music on the platform.
After testifying in Congress, Jeff Bezos was asked if Twitch pays artists royalties. He responded “I don’t know”, later adding “Yes, Congressman, that is an important issue and I understand it. And I will get back to your office on that.” This lack of a real response angered many musicians and they’re now demanding an answer.
Unlike platforms such as YouTube, Facebook or TikTok, Twitch currently has no licensed music on their platform, leading streamers to outsource licenses by themselves or use royalty-free music to avoid getting takedown notices from rightsholders.
Amazon acquired Twitch in 2014. Prior to the acquisition, Twitch had issues with unlicensed music, but labels and musicians hoped a company very much in the music industry would be able to sort this mess out. Since the pandemic, user numbers have spiked, with many musicians earning money through livestreaming. Twitch reportedly saw an 83% jump in platform viewed hours in Q2 2020 compared to the same period last year. They are now on track for 40 million users in the US by 2021. As Twitch continues to grow, music becomes a bigger issue.
Whilst there’s still no real licensed music on the platform, Twitch appear to be taking steps towards working with the music industry, such as hiring a Spotify director earlier this year to create products for musicians and livestreaming home gigs with Bandsintown.
Twitch operates under the DMCA’s (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) safe harbour provisions, that protect them from any liability for copyright violations by users, providing they remove content. This puts responsibility in the hands of rightsholders to find and issue takedowns for their content uploaded without a license, with Twitch reacting weeks later in some cases. The RIAA filed 2,500 copyright takedown notices in June 2020 alone.
The open letter from ARA asks Bezos why Twitch does not yet license music. “We were appalled, however, by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch’s practices in this regard.” “As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators more than the wilful blindness and vague platitudes you offered during your Congressional testimony.”
The full letter reads:
Dear Mr. Bezos,
We are the Executive Board of the Artist Rights Alliance, a non-profit organization comprised of
working musicians, performers, and songwriters fighting for a healthy creative economy and
fair treatment for artists in the digital world.
We respect Amazon and its many products and services that help fans and audiences find and
enjoy creative works. We appreciate that Amazon offers a number of properly licensed
Amazon’s Twitch subsidiary, however, is not one of those services. We have closely followed
the rising controversy surrounding Twitch’s hosting and delivery of unlicensed music and the
company’s apparent unwillingness to do anything beyond the most minimal and inadequate
effort to process takedown requests and shift responsibility for systematic unpaid use of music
on the platform to its users. For this reason, we were grateful that Representative Kelly
Armstrong raised Twitch’s licensing issues during your recent testimony before the House
Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee.
We were appalled, however, by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic
question about Twitch’s practices in this regard.
Mr. Armstrong asked if it was correct that, “Twitch allows users to stream music but does not
license the music.” You responded “I don’t know” and said you would look into it.
Given that Amazon is deeply involved in the music business with multiple overlapping products
and services that involve licensing questions, including Prime Video, various Music services,
audible books, and its massive Alexa and Echo home assistant business. The company has
owned Twitch since 2014 – during which time the platform has grown into one of the “the most
prevalent live music streaming medium[s],” including recently signing a multimillion dollar
exclusive with the acclaimed rapper and record producer Logic. And Twitch itself has long been
aware of its licensing challenges and shortcomings according to a recently surfaced memo on
audible scanning operations sent to its users the year Amazon acquired the company.
As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators
more than the willful blindness and vague platitudes you offered during your Congressional
testimony. For working songwriters and performers, fair royalties on a growing platform like
Twitch can literally be a matter of life and death – the difference between having a place to live
and homelessness and having access to health care or being uninsured. For other it’s the
difference between being able to work as an artist or having to give up a lifetime of dreams.
For all these reasons, we ask you to provide a public answer to Congressman Armstrong’s
question – does the Twitch platform allow users to post or stream unlicensed music? If the
answer is “yes” we further ask you to explain what you are doing or plan to do to proactively
stop that from happening and ensure that artists and songwriters are paid fair market value for
the work when it is performed on Twitch?
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