Friday, October 2, 2020

The bigger picture around Twitch, music licensing, and industry criticism | Music Ally

When we reported on the launch of Soundtrack by Twitch earlier this week, we had a sneaking suspicion that we’d be hearing from the publishing sector – and its US representative body the NMPA’s boss David Israelite – sooner rather than later with some opinions. And lo, he’s one of the interviewees in a Rolling Stone follow-up about the wider question of whether a platform like Twitch needs proper sync licensing.

“Watching a video on Twitch is really no different than watching a television show or a movie. The people making television programming or movies — there’s no question that before they use music, they go out and secure the proper rights and they negotiate a fair compensation for the people who made the music,” said Israelite.

“Somehow, these giant Internet companies have convinced themselves that they should be playing under different rules. Instead of acting like someone broadcasting television or movie content to consumers, they want to pretend that it’s the users making the content that somehow have all the responsibility, and not the platform — despite the fact that they are making significant amounts of money from the activity.”

This is an important debate, and it’s multi-layered. There’s no doubt that Twitch’s artist relations team are working hard to get musicians onto the platform and teach them how to use it – including the monetisation features that could be a timely part-replacement for lost live income. This is valuable and appreciated work.

It’s also true that creating a cleared library of music for other creators (gamers on Twitch, for example) to use, from labels happy to sign up to the licensing terms – even if the basis is promotional rather than royalty-generating – is something Twitch is entitled to try and those labels are entitled to explore. Monstercat and NCS are two examples of independent music companies showing that you CAN build a business partly or entirely driven by promotion on these new platforms. And of course, other music companies are perfectly entitled to steer clear of such models too.

But here’s the thing: there isn’t a contradiction in saluting the artist relations work and accepting the cleared-library approach, and thinking that the platform-wide issues need to be sorted out. We’ve been here before: it’s possible to praise the efforts of Spotify’s songwriter relations team but also criticise the company’s CRB appeal, or to warmly welcome YouTube Music and its work with artists but also disagree with the parent company’s stance on safe harbour.

One of the strands in the Rolling Stone article is of Soundtrack by Twitch as “designed to avoid paying for sync licenses”. We’re not so sure that’s the strategy (and if it is, it’s not a good one). Facebook has a Soundtrack-style cleared library, but it also has platform-wide user-generated content licences – the former didn’t preclude the latter.

Twitch does have licensing deals with some collecting societies already, and our instinct remains that it will ultimately reach agreements with labels and publishers too. Not least because that’s when the real fun and innovation can start. Facebook’s UGC deals have been the baseline for a succession of new music features and experiments across its platforms. Imagine what Twitch could do in the future when similarly freed up.

That’s the key message, which is sometimes forgotten. Licensing deals aren’t a punishment, they’re a springboard for innovation that benefits both sides. Yes, there’ll be hardball haggling, some of it public, and some of it tinged with suspicion and/or ill-temper. But having seen what Twitch can do while still enmeshed in these arguments, we’re impatient to get to the next stage, where it’s fully licensed, and can innovate with music partners at every level.

Stuart Dredge


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