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US music industry ramps up pressure over unlicensed music on Twitch

By | Published on Tuesday 27 October 2020


A stack of organisations representing the US music industry have written a letter to Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to express more concern about the status of music on the web giant’s Twitch platform. They question whether music in the recently launched Soundtrack By Twitch library is properly licensed, and criticise the livestreaming platform’s approach to removing unlicensed music from its streams, including when it has received takedown notices from music rights owners.

The issue of unlicensed music appearing in Twitch streams – while not new – has become a much bigger talking point this year. Partly because of the boom in livestreaming during the COVID shutdown. And partly because the Amazon platform itself has been much more proactively schmoozing music-makers and the music industry of late, as it seeks to diversify the kind of creators live-streaming via the service beyond its core constituency of gamers.

Twitch does have some licensing deals in place with some of the collecting societies on the songs side of the music industry. Some of those have been in place for a while – especially with the US societies like BMI and ASCAP – while others are very new deals, such as Twitch’s arrangement with French society SACEM.

Then last month the Amazon company announced Soundtrack By Twitch, a library of pre-cleared commercially released tracks that – it said – creators could use in their livestreams without any music licensing issues. Those tracks came via licensing deals with distributors like DistroKid and UnitedMasters.

Though it wasn’t entirely clear how the accompanying song rights had been licensed. Did Twitch reckon the song rights were covered by its collecting society deals? But what about songs repped by societies Twitch doesn’t yet have a deal with? And when music is streamed via Twitch – live or in the on-demand archive – are the mechanical rights of the song also exploited, which, with Anglo-American repertoire at least, the societies cannot license?

Questions questions. And the licensing status of Soundtrack By Twitch is among the questions raised in the recent letter from organisations like the American Association Of Independent Music, the Artist Rights Alliance, the Music Managers Forum US, the National Music Publishers Association, the Recording Industry Association Of America, the Recording Academy, and Songwriters Of North America.

They write: “We read with interest Twitch’s recent announcement regarding its Soundtrack tool. According to Twitch, this tool gives Twitch’s users the ability to feature a curated library of licensed music in their live streams”.

“We appreciate that Twitch has acknowledged that it is good business to offer licensed music for use by its streamers”, they go on, “and we welcome that Twitch has started to enter into some agreements with rightsholders to provide licensed music for use by its streamers. However, we are confounded by Twitch’s apparent stance that neither sync nor mechanical licences are necessary for its Soundtrack tool”.

As for all the unlicensed music that still appears in streams on Twitch, the Amazon platform relies on safe harbour protection from liability for copyright infringement, of course. To that end, it receives and acts upon takedown notices from record companies and music publishers.

In recent months there have been spark moments when a sudden flood of takedowns – and the resulting blocking and removal of content on the Twitch platform – has resulted in lots of chatter among Twitch creators, and especially the gamers.

However, although Twitch is definitely responding to at least some takedowns, the trade groups signing the open letter also express disappointment about Twitch’s general approach to unlicensed music on its platform.

“We are … deeply disappointed that Twitch continues to allow and enable its streamers to use our respective members’ music without authorisation, in violation of Twitch’s music guidelines”, they write. “We are further concerned that Twitch continues to host and widely make available unlicensed music on its platform despite the company’s announcements, most recently in June 2020, that it would remove such unlicensed music”.

“Twitch appears to do nothing in response to the thousands of notices of music infringement that it has received”, they go on. “Nor does it currently even acknowledge that it received them, as it has done in the past”.

Citing Bezos’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee in US Congress earlier this year, during which the Amazon chief seemed very much in the dark regarding Twitch’s music policies and efforts to secure music licences, the letter continues: “Twitch’s neglect of the fundamental rights of musicians, songwriters, sound recording artists, and many others whose music is exploited on Twitch without due compensation, stands in stark contrast to Twitch’s competitors and to the support of such interests extended by Amazon’s own Amazon Music services”.

The letter concludes: “We hope you appreciate the gravity of the situation and will take proactive efforts to ensure that unlicensed music is not available on Twitch”.

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