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Artists demand Jeff Bezos answer questions about Twitch’s (lack of) music licences

By | Published on Tuesday 11 August 2020


Twitch’s big music problem – although not new – has definitely become much more apparent in recent months as the livestreaming platform has increased in profile beyond the gamer community, partly because of the COVID-caused boom in livestreamed music, and partly because the Amazon subsidiary itself has been increasingly wooing music-makers.

With all that in mind, a group of US artists has demanded that Amazon boss Jeff Bezos actually provide an answer to a question he was asked during a recent Congressional hearing on the responsibilities of big tech. Because when asked about Twitch’s lack of music licences at said hearing, all Bezos could say is “I don’t know”.

Even as a platform predominantly populated by gamers livestreaming their gameplay, the amount of unlicensed music swimming around Twitch was already an issue, especially once it had been acquired by Amazon in 2014, a company very much in business with the music industry.

Nevertheless, Twitch got away with featuring a plethora of music in its streams without licence for years, occasionally blocking videos where specific takedown notices had been received from music companies.

But as the kind of content livestreaming on Twitch has diversified – both organically and because of specific efforts by the company to reach out to other kinds of content-makers – the fact the Amazon business operates without music licences has become a much bigger issue.

There have been some talks to secure some licences to cover some aspects of the Twitch service, but for now much of the big music problem remains.

Which is why, during the aforementioned Congressional hearing, representative Kelly Armstrong asked Bezos whether it was correct to say “Twitch allows users to stream music but does not license the music”. The Amazon overlord responded “I don’t know”, and then promised to definitely look into it. It was with that in mind that the US Artist Rights Alliance yesterday sent an open letter to Bezos asking for an answer to Armstrong’s question.

The letter notes how Amazon has, in many ways, been a good partner of the music industry by operating various services fully licensed by the record companies, music publishers and collecting societies. But, it notes, “Amazon’s Twitch subsidiary … 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”, the letter goes on. “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”, it then states. Again noting that Amazon at large is super aware of how music licensing works, and that “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”.

The letter continues: “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 others 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”, the letter concludes, “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?”

Like Armstrong and the ARA, we await with interest to see how Bezos responds.