Music rights holders have confronted Jeff Bezos for showing “wilful blindness” to unlicensed songs on the Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch, as they step up a campaign for royalty payments.
Since the lockdown, gaming-heavy Twitch has exploded in popularity as a platform for live-streaming music, prompting artists and labels to challenge Amazon over the wider music licensing policies of its subsidiary.
The copyright battle began in June with rights holders issuing a volley of “takedown notices” against material on Twitch, with 2,500 claims filed for improper use of unlicensed music in the background to gaming, or the live streaming of mixed recordings.
The Artists Rights Alliance, a trade body, has since sought to pressure Mr Bezos directly, taking issue with Amazon’s two-tier approach to licensing for its music streaming services while Twitch avoids entering such deals.
During testimony in Congress earlier this month, Mr Bezos was asked by Kelly Armstrong, a Republican lawmaker, whether it was correct that Twitch “allows users to stream music but does not license the music”. Mr Bezos said “I don’t know” and promised to check.
In a draft letter to Mr Bezos seen by the Financial Times, which is to be sent on Monday, ARA’s board members called on the Amazon founder to “provide a public answer” and go beyond “the minimal and inadequate” efforts made by Twitch.
“As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators more than the wilful blindness and vague platitudes you offered,” the letter said.
The spat has wider implications for Amazon and other big content platforms, as they try to navigate a barrage of demands from users, regulators, vendors and rights holders over the frontiers of legal responsibilities in a digital age.
Like user-upload platforms such as YouTube or Instagram, Twitch has relied on “safe harbour” provisions in US copyright law, which limits the liability of platforms that host material as long as they promptly respond to takedown requests.
Following the takedown requests in June — covering the use of songs such as “Cake By the Ocean” by DNCE and “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande — Twitch acknowledged the notices had been “stressful for creators”.
After receiving his notice Jake “JakeNBake” Abramson, one of Twitch’s most popular streamers, said on Twitter: “If things continue this way doesn’t that mean 90 per cent of the streamers on Twitch are done-zo?”
Twitch said it was improving the tools available to find and remove copyright violations and has clarified some advice to creators. But it has yet to significantly amend guidelines that place responsibility for seeking licences for recordings on streamers.
Rather than deal with music publishers, the streaming service has so far focused on performance rights. Twitch’s karaoke app, Twitch Sings, has secured music licences from 100-plus publishers, but the licences do not apply to the main Twitch platform.
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Amazon bought Twitch, the biggest platform for watching live streams of others playing games, for $970m in 2014. It has since expanded into a broader entertainment platform — with about 4m creators streaming material each month — and has prospered in the lockdown economy.
Sunita Kaur, a former Spotify executive who is leading Twitch’s push into Asia-Pacific, recently told CNBC the service was looking to build a much closer relationship with artists and labels.
“Music is where we see the largest growth and coming from Spotify, this is quite close to my heart,” she said. “We are going to be definitely spending more time working much, much closer with the music industry in Asia-Pacific region.”