Last month we wrote about how Jeff Bezos didn’t know whether or not Twitch, the live-streaming platform acquired by his company Amazon for $970 million in 2014, pays royalties to artists for records played on the service.
Facing the House Judiciary Committee’s anti-trust hearing on July 29, along with three other big tech leaders: Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg, Congressman Kelly Armstrong (Representative for North Dakota) asked Bezos the following question:
“My understanding is that Twitch allows users to stream music but does not license the music. Is that correct?”
Bezos responded that he was “going to have to ask that I could get back to your office with an answer to that question”.
He then added: “I don’t know.”
Twitch does not pay music licensing royalties to artists for records played on its service. In June, a number of prominent Twitch users were threatened with having their accounts terminated after receiving copyright infringement notices for unlicensed music used in clips posted on their channels.
In order for Twitch to be protected under US safe harbor laws – and not be liable for infringing user generated content on its platform – it is legally required to comply with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests served by rights-holders.
Bezos’ uncertainty about whether Twitch has licensed its music or not has raised a lot of eyebrows in the music industry and The Artist Rights Alliance (ARA), an artist-run, nonprofit fighting for songwriters and musicians, is now seeking clarification on the matter directly from Amazon’s CEO.
“As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators more than willful blindness and vague platitudes.”
The Artist Rights Alliance
In a letter sent to Bezos today (August 10) and obtained by MBW, ARA states that it is “appalled” by Bezos’ “inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch’s practices”.
The letter adds: “As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators more than willful blindness and vague platitudes.
“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.”
ARA’s Board of Directors includes the likes of Grammy winner Rosanne Cash, music manager Thomas Manzi, John McCrea of CAKE, Americana singer/songwriter Tift Merritt, producer Ivan Barias, musician Matthew Montfort, and Indie label executive and musician Maggie Vail. Former House of Representatives staffer Ted Kalo is ARA’s Executive Director.
You can read the letter in full below:
Dear Mr. Bezos,
We are the Executive Board of the Artist Rights Alliance, a non-profit organization comprised of working musicians, performers, and songwriters fighting for a healthy creative economy and fair treatment for artists in the digital world.
We recognize Amazon’s many products and services that help fans and audiences find and enjoy creative works. We appreciate that Amazon offers a number of properly licensed streaming services.
Amazon’s Twitch subsidiary, however, 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. 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 by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch’s practices in this regard.”
We were appalled, however, by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch’s practices in this regard.
Mr. Armstrong asked if it was correct that, “Twitch allows users to stream music but does not license the music.” You responded “I don’t know” and said you would look into it.
Amazon is deeply involved in the music business with multiple overlapping products and services that involve licensing questions, including Prime Video, various Music services, audible books, and its massive Alexa and Echo home assistant business. The company has owned Twitch since 2014 – during which time the platform has grown into one of the “the most prevalent live music streaming medium[s],” including recently signing a multimillion dollar exclusive with the acclaimed rapper and record producer Logic. And 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.
As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators more than willful blindness and vague platitudes. 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 these reasons, 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?
Maggie VailMusic Business Worldwide