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Twitch, Amazon Slammed by RIAA and Major Industry Groups for Using Unlicensed Music; Twitch Disputes Claim

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Courtesy of Twitch

UPDATED: Twitch, the rapidly growing livestreaming platform, and its owner Amazon received a blistering letter on Thursday signed by multiple major U.S. music organizations including the RIAA, the Recording Academy, the National Music Publishers Association, the Music Managers Forum, the American Association of Independent Music, SAG-AFTRA and more than a dozen others over its licensing situation with many major music rights-holders. The letter is addressed to Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos, with Twitch CEO Emmet Shear on copy (a full list of signatories appears below).

The letter, obtained by Variety, accuses the service of failing to secure proper synch and mechanical licenses for its recently launched Soundtrack tool, as well as “allowing and enabling its streamers to use our respective members’ music without authorization, in violation of Twitch’s music guidelines,” among other claims. The platform was primarily used for gaming until the COVID-19 pandemic, when its music livestreams began to surge.

“Twitch appears to do nothing in response to the thousands of notices of music infringement that it has received nor does it currently even acknowledge that it received them, as it has done in the past,” the letter continues. Twitch denied some of the claims in a statement posted below.

While Twitch announced a new tool called Soundtrack earlier this month that provides streamers with the use of licensed music for millions of songs from certain independent labels, the service lacks deals with all three majors as well as many publishers and other rights-holders, and lacks other rights on the songs it has licensed.

Twitch delivered some 5 billion hours of livestreamed content in the second quarter of 2020, a dramatic 83% year-over-year surge, per a report by Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet. As lockdown has paralyzed the concert industry, many artists have turned to Twitch as a platform for livestreamed concerts, DJ sets and other broadcasts involving copyrighted music. The service, which was acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million, is expected to top 40 million U.S. users by 2021, according to eMarketer forecasts. The music-licensing issues have come to the fore in recent months because of the surge in music being streamed over Twitch, which was previously primarily a gaming platform.

“We represent artists, songwriters, musicians, vocalists, managers, producers, audio engineers, major and independent labels and publishers, and many other professionals in all genres of music in the United States,” the letter begins. “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.[1] We appreciate that Twitch has acknowledged that it is good business to offer licensed music for use by its streamers, and we welcome that Twitch has started to enter into some agreements with rightsholders to provide licensed music for use by its streamers.

“However,” the letter continues, “we are confounded by Twitch’s apparent stance that neither synch nor mechanical licenses are necessary for its Soundtrack tool.  We are also deeply disappointed that Twitch continues to allow and enable its streamers to use our respective members’ music without authorization, in violation of Twitch’s music guidelines.[2]  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.[3]  Twitch appears to do nothing in response to the thousands of notices of music infringement that it has received nor does it currently even acknowledge that it received them, as it has done in the past.”

Twitch refuted some of the claims in a statement to Variety on Monday: “We are incredibly proud of the essential service Twitch has become for so many artists and songwriters to connect with their fans, especially when real world venues are closed and tours are paused around the world,” the comment reads. “Thousands of music creators rely upon Twitch to express themselves creatively, connect with their fans, and generate income during the global pandemic – and that number grows each day. We’ve partnered with dozens of labels, music distributors and promoters to ensure artists and songwriters have these opportunities during this challenging time. We’ve also continued to support the music economy by paying royalties to performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR, and licensing fees to labels and publishers for the use of music in Twitch’s own productions and projects. We are contributing to the health of the music community, and we are proud of that.

“We’re also proud of the work we are doing around recorded music on Twitch through Soundtrack. Soundtrack is a fully licensed service. Twitch has entered into agreements with rights holders for the recordings and compositions included in the service. Soundtrack is not only a fully-licensed way for streamers to play great music in their live streams but also an important discovery tool for independent artists and labels.

“Finally,” the statement concludes, “let’s be absolutely clear, Twitch responds to each valid DMCA notification it receives by removing the allegedly infringing content expeditiously in compliance with DMCA requirements.”

In response, RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Glazier sent Variety the following statement: “Twitch raises a lot of points – none of which address the questions in the letter. Instead, Twitch continues to turn a blind eye to the same users repeatedly violating the law while pocketing the proceeds of massive unlicensed uses of recorded music. And Twitch’s claim that it responds to takedown requests it considers ‘valid’ fails to show good faith with music creators. Further, Twitch’s shifting of its responsibilities to artists who use the platform is certainly not the act of a company that genuinely wants to partner with creators.  That’s why a broad coalition of organizations have united to call Twitch out on continuing to make available unlicensed recordings and compositions on its platform.”

Twitch’s Soundtrack partners include SoundCloud, CD Baby, EMPIRE, Create Music Group, UnitedMasters, DistroKid, Westwood Recordings, Dim Mak, Nuclear Blast, Chillhop Music, and the artist mxmtoon, among others. It apparently has not struck a deal with the indie label collective Merlin.

“Further,” the letter continues, “we are concerned by your responses to questions regarding licensing made during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on July 29, 2020.  We note that you failed to confirm whether Twitch has acquired any licenses to make copies of musical compositions or digital performances of any sound recordings on your platform.  You also failed to state what action Twitch is taking to prevent unauthorized copies and performances.

“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 then references another letter, sent to Amazon and Twitch by the Artist Rights Alliance collective in August, which cites Bezos’ testimony during a House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on July 29. The chief exec, who is the wealthiest person in the world, was asked by Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) whether Twitch allowed users to stream unlicensed music. Bezos claimed he didn’t know the answer and would investigate.

“We were appalled… by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch’s practices in this regard,” the ARA letter says.

Thursday’s letter concludes: “As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators more than the willful blindness and vague platitudes you offered during your Congressional testimony.  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.”

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

Sincerely,

American Association of Independent Music
Americana Music Association
Artist Rights Alliance
Church Music Publishers’ Association
Christian Music Trade Association
Global Music Rights
Gospel Music Association
International Bluegrass Music Association
Living Legends Foundation
Music Managers’ Forum – US
Nashville Songwriters Association International
National Music Publishers’ Association
Recording Academy
Recording Industry Association of America
Rhythm & Blues Foundation
SAG-AFTRA
Songwriters of North America
SoundExchange