Business

Musicians Criticize Jeff Bezos' 'Willful Blindness' to Twitch Music Royalties

Jeff Bezos
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Amazon

Jeff Bezos announces the co-founding of The Climate Pledge at the National Press Club on Sept. 19, 2019 in Washington, DC.

The artist-run non-profit Artist Rights Alliance demands answers in a new letter addressed to Bezos.

While testifying at a congressional hearing late last month, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos admitted that he wasn't sure whether or not the company pays royalties for the music users stream on Amazon-owned livestreaming platform Twitch (it doesn't). His response angered artist-run non-profit Artist Rights Alliance, which has sent a letter to Bezos challenging him to pay artists their fair share, as music streaming on Twitch continues to surge.

"We were appalled [...] by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch’s practices in this regard," the letter reads. "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."

The letter available in full here is signed by Artist Rights Alliance board of directors members including producer Ivan Barias, Rosanne Cash, music manager Thomas Manzi, CASH Music executive director Maggie Vail, guitarist Matthew Monfort, John McCrea (of Cake) and Tift Merritt.

Twitch, which Amazon bought in 2014, has traditionally focused on the gaming community. However, the coronavirus pandemic has inspired a mass migration of music artists to the platform, which allows artists to monetize their streams and stay connected with global fans. The platform saw 5 billion hours watched in the second quarter of 2020, an 83% jump over 2019, according to a recent report from Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet, and industry analysts say Twitch is on pace to surpass 40 million U.S. users by 2021.

But as Twitch grows, the platform is increasingly drawing scrutiny for its lack of music licensing deals. Twitch does not have licensing deals of any kind with Universal Music Group, Sony Music or Warner Music Group (or any of their publishing entities), although it does have deals with the performance rights organizations ASCAP, SESAC and BMI.

Like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and other platforms that host user-uploaded content, Twitch has been operating under the the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) "safe harbor" provision, which shields content-hosting platforms from liability for copyright violations by users, so long as they promptly respond to takedown requests from rights holders. In June, the RIAA filed 2,500 copyright takedown notices to Twitch users, just as policymakers were debating the DMCA's efficacy in Congress, seemingly in a move to add pressure to Twitch on the licensing front.

"We appreciate that Amazon offers a number of properly licensed streaming services," the Artist Rights Alliance letter reads. "Amazon’s Twitch subsidiary, however, is not one of those services." It goes on to slam "the company’s apparent unwillingness to do anything beyond the most minimal and inadequate effort to process takedown requests," and concludes by asking Bezos to publicly explain what he is doing to ensure that artists and songwriters are paid fairly for their music on Twitch.

Representatives for Twitch and Amazon did not respond to Billboard's request for comment at press time.

Despite Twitch's licensing woes, its enormous audience and monetization options for creators appear to be too tempting for many music industry players to pass up. Over the weekend, San Francisco music festival Outside Lands announced that it will host the free, virtual event Inside Lands exclusively on Twitch from Aug. 28-29, where it will stream archived sets from past festival editions as well as soon-to-be-announced new performances. Meanwhile, late last month, Twitch partnered with Logic for an exclusive livestreaming deal, marking the company's first such pact with a music artist.