Amazon-owned live streaming platform Twitch doesn’t pay music licensing royalties to artists for records played on its service.
That might not be common knowledge, but it is public knowledge, highlighted by last month’s news that a number of prominent Twitch users were being threatened with having their accounts terminated after receiving copyright infringement notices for unlicensed music used in clips posted on their channels over the past year.
In order for Twitch to be protected under US safe harbor laws – and not be liable for infringing user generated content on its platform – Twitch is legally required to comply with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests served by rights-holders.
Coronavirus lockdown drove streamers to Twitch in their multiples of millions, with hours watched on the platform increasing by 50% between March and April. By May, hours watched on the platform were up 101% year over year.
What does this tells us? As Twitch’s audience grows, rights-holders are getting increasingly uncomfortable with their music being used in VOD clips published by users on the platform without the correct licenses.
If there’s one person you might expect to be privy to Twitch’s licensing arrangements (or lack there of), it’s the gentleman who owns the parent company of the popular live-streaming platform.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose company acquired Twitch for $970 million in 2014, faced the House Judiciary Committee’s anti-trust hearing yesterday (July 29), along with three other big tech leaders: Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg.
Whilst questioning Bezos, Congressman Kelly Armstrong (Representative for North Dakota) cited last month’s news of Twitch’s multiple DMCA takedown requests, and made the following observation: “Music can be used to drive revenue. Obviously there’s a reason it’s important now. I’ll talk about Twitch for a second.”
He then asked Bezos a simple question: “My understanding,” he said, “is that Twitch allows users to stream music but does not license the music. Is that correct?”
Bezos’ response? “I’m going to have to ask that I could get back to your office with an answer to that question. I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Congressman Armstrong delved further, asking Bezos: “If Twitch is responding to DMCA notice and takedown requirements, should…Twitch consider proactive licensing music instead of retroactively adhering to those notices?”
Bezos responded: “Yes, Congressman, that’s an important issue and we understand it. And I will get back to your office on that.”
Bezos’ apparent uncertainty about whether Twitch has licensed its music or not comes just two months after the platform’s Head of Music, Mike Olson, who previously set up Pandora’s Artist Marketing Platform, told Rolling Stone that Twitch “respects music rights-holders and we respect copyright”.
Olson also said that Twitch’s karaoke app, Twitch Sings (and not the main Twitch platform) is currently licensed globally by around 180 music publishers.
He added: “We have been working very directly with rights-holders as music evolves on Twitch.”
Elsewhere at Twitch, the company recently appointed Spotify for Artists product lead Tracy Chan as its new Head of Product and Engineering for Music.
The platform also recently partnered with SoundCloud to fast-track SoundCloud Pro, SoundCloud Premier and Repost creators directly to Twitch Affiliate status and launched a new Twitch channel, called ‘SoundCloud on Twitch’, which SoundCloud describes as “a new home for all artists, creatives and listeners to meet emerging acts, hear from some major names in music and connect directly with the SoundCloud team”.Music Business Worldwide