Twitch: It’s not just for gamers anymore. As the pandemic has forced more musicians to turn to livestreaming as a way of supplanting concerts, the platform’s user base is growing. That, in turn, has drawn the increased attention of the music industry, which has begun serving Twitch DMCA takedown notices en masse to remove on-demand videos featuring unlicensed music.
Billboard reports that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has served over 2,500 notices over the last week alone. Many of the takedown notices target videos from old streams going as far back as 2017. In a series of tweets on June 7th, the Twitch Support team noted, “This is the first time we have received mass DMCA claims against clips.”
Twitch users have accused the Amazon-owned service of altering its guidelines, but the fact is streamers have always needed licenses to use recorded music, especially in their saved videos. Just like YouTube, TikTok, and similar platforms hosting user-generated content, Twitch abides by the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The DMCA dictates licensing rules for using music in livestreams and on-demand videos, putting the onus of policing such uses on rights holders. If a publisher or record label comes across an infringement, they notify the platform, which in turn pulls the offending content and contacts the source user.
The thing is, Twitch was never much of a concern for the members of the RIAA (Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Atlantic, RCA… all the big industry players). However, Twitch viewing more than doubled during the first month of the pandemic lockdown, with views under the “music and performing arts” category growing by 385% percent year-over-year to 17 million hours in April. Now, that’s still just 1% of Twitch’s monthly viewing hours, but it’s enough expansion for the music industry to begin taking notice.
“With touring shut down, artists need all available income streams more than ever, and big tech companies depriving artists of royalties owed to them has come into greater focus,” Artists Rights Alliance’s executive director Ted Kalo told Billboard. “A technologically-savvy company like Amazon could solve this problem for artists and Twitch users quickly: by licensing music and providing Twitch creators tools to avoid unlicensed uses of music.”
While Twitch’s karaoke app, Twitch Sings, has licensing deals with nearly 200 publishers, none of those apply to the main streaming service. The company reportedly is in discussion with royalty organizations for “no-interactive audio-visual licenses,” and has already locked deals with ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI.
Besides those contracts, Twitch is doing its best to both comply with the DMCA and take care of its users. The service has expanded its use of Audible Magic, which searches for clips that may contain copyrighted music automatically, pulling the content without penalty for the user. Twitch is also making it easier for users to check and remove their own content with Audible Magic.
We value the work of songwriters, musicians, and other creative artists. As a company committed to supporting creators, we respect, and ask our users to respect, the intellectual property of those who make music and those who own or control music rights.
— Twitch Support (@TwitchSupport) June 11, 2020
At the same time, the DMCA is currently under new congressional scrutiny. There’s debate about whether the act should be updated because, as The Eagles’ Don Henley said during his Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, “the DMCA is a relic of a MySpace era in a TikTok world.” In other words, the industry by and large believes the DMCA is unfairly tilted in big tech’s favor.
The sudden shift in action is surely coming as a shock to many Twitch users, but the RIAA has a message for them: Get used to it. “COVID-19 has shined a light on livestreaming, and if everybody comes to the table and they’re accountable and they create a great consumer experience, it can be great for everybody,” said RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Glazier. “Our job is to make sure that [rights holders] have those opportunities to get compensated. We’re going to ferociously do that.”
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