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NMPA chief says Twitch’s music licensing blog post contains some “astounding admissions”

By | Published on Thursday 3 December 2020


The boss of the US National Music Publishers’ Association has hit out at that recent music rights-themed blog post made by Amazon’s livestreaming platform Twitch. In an op-ed for Billboard, David Israelite says that the post included some “astounding admissions”.

The blog post was responding to criticism from gamers and other creators who stream via Twitch about the sudden increase in content being removed from the platform as a result of copyright complaints from the music industry.

Record companies in particular have started more proactively issuing takedown requests against Twitch videos that contain their music, partly because of the increased attention livestreaming has received during the COVID shutdown, and partly because the Amazon company is now more actively seeking to persuade music-makers to join its community of creators.

Twitch is obliged to respond to those takedown requests under copyright law, otherwise it itself could be held liable for copyright infringement. In its blog post, the livestreaming service admitted that it was unprepared for the sudden increase in takedowns and had therefore not offered creators whose videos were targeted with the tools or time to respond to the copyright complaints.

The blog post reassured Twitch creators that it was now seeking to build better systems to deal with takedown notices, while also urging said creators to avoid using commercially released music in their videos and streams moving forward. Twitch does now offer its own library of pre-cleared recordings that creators can make use of, although some music publishers have questioned whether the song rights exploited in that library have been properly licensed.

As for securing more wide-ranging licences from the music industry to allow a greater range of recordings and songs to be used on the platform, Twitch said that talks with record companies were ongoing, but that any deals might “take some time to materialise or may never happen at all”.

After reviewing just how much music is used across the Twitch platform, Israelite takes aim at the Amazon company’s blog post, and its ongoing approach to legitimise all the recordings and songs being exploited by its users.

First, Israelite criticises Twitch for saying that the sudden increase in takedown notices was a surprise. “Amazon, which purchased Twitch for $970 million in 2014, knows exactly how to license music, as it has done for its Amazon Prime and Amazon Music services”, he writes.

“To claim ignorance is laughable, though that is exactly what Amazon’s CEO recently did before Congress. When asked in a committee hearing whether Twitch – one of the largest music livestreaming platforms in the world – licensed music, Jeff Bezos had no idea. This gives an estimation of how much paying music creators has been prioritised”.

As for the blog post’s remarks on Twitch’s efforts to get full on music licences sorted, he states: “Twitch has the audacity to imply licensing music for its platform is a novel or difficult exercise. Twitch – and its parent company – cannot seriously argue that their profit margins do not leave room to fairly compensate creators and songwriters for the use of their music”.

Twitch backed up its claim that sorting out music licences was difficult by arguing it has a unique business model, meaning that the licensing approaches employed by labels and publishers with other digital platforms are not appropriate for its service. In particular, “the vast majority of our creators don’t have recorded music as a part of their streams”.

But that’s a nonsense argument, reckons Israelite. “Other sites, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok, to name a few, have figured out how to compensate songwriters for the use of music on their platforms, even though not all of their user-generated content contains music. There are several licensing roadmaps for Twitch to follow. Instead, Twitch has gone to incredible lengths to avoid properly licensing music for its streamers”.

Elsewhere, Israelite adds: “It is telling that while Twitch goes to great lengths to explain that it is ‘actively speaking with the major record labels about potential approaches to additional licences that would be appropriate for the Twitch service’, it never mentions music publishers or securing rights to the songwriters’ work they represent. We have seen this before. The assumption that new or evolving services shouldn’t have to pay for music, or comply with [the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act], has not worked in the past, and it won’t work now”.

You can read the full op-ed piece here.