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Twitch responds to music takedown frenzy, says music licences will take time or may never happen

By | Published on Friday 13 November 2020


Twitch users have been getting, well, twitchy, to say the least, about the amount of content getting blocked on the platform of late because of music copyright complaints. That’s because the music industry has been getting increasingly, well, twitchy, about the amount of unlicensed music swimming around the Amazon-owned livestreaming platform. In a new blog post Twitch has told the twitchy twitchers that it’s busy building a better system for dealing with copyright complaints, while also trying to placate twitchy labels with some licensing chatter.

Because it only has licences with a handful of collecting societies and DIY distributors, Twitch relies on the good old copyright safe harbour to avoid liability for all the uncleared music on its platform. That means that it has to respond to takedown requests from copyright owners. If it didn’t, it would lose safe harbour protection and could be sued, sued, sued for the mega-bucks.

That said, until recently the music industry kind of ignored Twitch. There were a flurry of takedowns from the majors in 2018, leading to a flurry of copyright chatter in the Twitch community, but in the main very few takedown requests were issued against the Amazon platform.

That changed earlier this year. Partly because the COVID shutdown made everyone focus on livestreaming, and partly because Twitch has been proactively schmoozing artists as it seeks to expand its creator community beyond its core constituency of gamers. It’s the on-demand clips of past livestreams that sit on the platform which have been mainly targeted.

“Until May of this year”, Twitch said in its blog, “streamers received fewer than 50 music-related [takedowns] each year on Twitch. Beginning in May, however, representatives for the major record labels started sending thousands of [takedowns] each week that targeted creators’ archives, mostly for snippets of tracks in years-old clips. We continue to receive large batches of notifications, and we don’t expect that to slow down. We were as surprised by this sudden avalanche of notifications as many of you were”.

It’s because of that surprise that Twitch has been struggling to deal with the takedown requests, resulting in plenty of complaints from streamers on the platform about the lack of information they have been receiving as content has been blocked, and the lack of tools available to deal with those complaints.

“One of the mistakes we made”, Twitch admitted, “was not building adequate tools to allow creators to manage their own [clip] libraries. You’re rightly upset that the only option we providing was a mass deletion tool for clips, and that we only gave you three-days notice to use this tool. We could have developed more sophisticated, user-friendly tools awhile ago. That we didn’t is on us”.

Now that everyone’s so damn twitchy about all this, Twitch plans to develop new systems and tools, pretty certain that the takedowns are going to keep flooding on in until it agrees licensing deals with much of the music industry. Meanwhile, how can streamers avoid copyright issues? By not using music in their streams. Or, rather, using tracks from a production music library.

Twitch, of course, has its own such library now called Soundtrack By Twitch, so streamers can take tracks from there no problem. Well, except that some music publishers reckon the song rights haven’t been properly licensed for Twitch’s own music library, but that’s another story for another day.

Why doesn’t Amazon just gets its over-sized cheque book out and get some licences from the twitchy labels so that the twitchy twitchers no longer have to worry about any of this shit?

Well, the Twitch blog continues, “we are actively speaking with the major record labels about potential approaches to additional licences that would be appropriate for the Twitch service. That said, the current constructs for licences that the record labels have with other services (which typically take a cut of revenue from creators for payment to record labels) make less sense for Twitch”.

“The vast majority of our creators don’t have recorded music as a part of their streams, and the revenue implications to creators of such a deal are substantial”, it goes on. “We’re open-minded to new structures that could work for Twitch’s unique service, but we must be clear that they may take some time to materialise or may never happen at all”. Fun times.

Interestingly, the Twitch blog confirms that the takedowns it receives don’t usually relate to music in the soundtrack of any games appearing in livestreams, instead it’s generally other music that may appear in the background of the video.

Though, it adds, “if you’re playing games with recorded music in them, we recommend you review their end user licence agreements to see how the terms cover streaming with that music”. Yeah, that sounds like fun. Happy small print reading all you twitchers out there!