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Licensing issues for live streaming music on Twitch

The issues with live streaming with music

Twitch, and its parent company Amazon have found themselves in a messy situation with the music industry following a blistering letter addressed to Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos.

The RIAA, the Association of Independent Music, and over a dozen other industry groups signed the letter accusing Twitch of copyright violations and general neglect of its own policies.

The use of copyrighted music without proper licensing is forbidden by Twitch in its music guidelines; but according to the letter, they themselves have failed to meet synching and mechanical licensing for their new tool, Soundtrack — a newly launched feature that gives its streamers the ability to play from a curated library of fully licensed music during their live streams. Twitch partnered with Soundcloud, Dim Mak, Chillhop, and several others to make this happen. While the letter offers Twitch an A for effort, music industry officials like and the believe more should be done.

“We appreciate that Twitch has acknowledged that it is good business to offer licensed music for use by its live streamers, and we welcome that Twitch has started to enter into some agreements with rights holders to provide music licensing for live streaming. However...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.”

The letter goes on to say that Twitch has dropped the ball in addressing or even acknowledging the receipt of “thousands of notices of copyright infringement,” although Twitch refutes this in their responding statement.

Primarily a video game streaming platform in the past, Twitch's popularity shot up in early 2020 when COVID-19 brought live music and other events to a screeching halt. Hours watched on Twitch grew a full 50% between March and April alone.

“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…”

What this means for live streaming

Obtaining the rights to play music for an event in the U.S. can be very tricky. Organizers need to get permission from the performance rights organizations: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Event organizers for virtual events — like the ones hosted on PromoStream — are responsible for understanding copyright regulations. On the upside, virtual event organizers on PromoStream now have more control over their content and who has access to it.

Since Twitch streams are all public and accessible, this puts Twitch at fault for any copyright violations from its streamers. To save themselves from a full on legal battle, the platform removes the suspected content in violation... in some cases, immediately and without warning.

Following the letter, Twitch sent out DMCA takedown notices to hundreds of streamers. Several partnered streamers have taken their complaints to Twitter, saying they weren’t given proper notice of the violation or a chance to defend their content with counterclaims.

Given the situation, the risks of streaming music on a public platform like Twitch are now apparent. Event organizers and artists may benefit more from moving to a ticketed live streaming platform.

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Casey Teel
Casey Teel
Casey Teel is a digital communication and media professional with a passion for music, arts, and community.

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