Why doesn’t Twitch pay music royalties?

Twitch Logo 2019

The music industry at large has spent the better part of two decades trying to make money from the use of music on social platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and beyond. In a world where physical album sales have essentially bottomed out, royalties gained from song streams and licensing have become more important than ever, and that trend shows no signs of changing anytime soon.

Twitch is an exception. Since its launch in 2011, the live video streaming service has managed to avoid paying royalties for music played by its users while broadcasting on its platform. Twitch is mainly used to broadcast individuals or teams playing popular video games, such as FortNite, but almost every broadcast also includes a musical component. The service claims to have 2 million daily broadcasts, as well as 15 million daily users. Here’s a quick example of a Twitch stream for anyone unfamiliar with the service:

Watch live video from Ninja on www.twitch.tv

Twitch is a platform that requires UGC, otherwise known as user-generated content, to thrive. Similar UGC-based platforms have negotiated license agreements, but Twitch has somehow managed to avoid the process, despite the service and many of its most popular broadcasters making millions. Revenue comes from subscriptions, bits, and Amazon Prime memberships, but many of the most popular broadcasters have negotiated third-party sponsorship deals as well.

Many broadcasters generate revenue when not streaming through fans who watch previous broadcasts maintained on the Twitch servers. Again, no royalties are paid to musicians whose music may appear on these streams, despite several broadcasters welcoming tens of thousands of viewers per day.

In June 2018, Universal took the first steps to fight back against Twitch’s unrestricted use of music when it had 10 of the most popular broadcast suspended for 24 hours and all videos using UMG music deleted from their accounts. 

“This organization has asserted that it owns this content and that you streamed that content on Twitch without permission to do so,” according to an email sent to the user known as KittyPlays. “As a result, we have cleared the offending archives, highlights, and episodes from your account and given you a 24-hour restriction from broadcasting.”

As Forbes pointed earlier this year, platforms with user-generated audiovisual content require performance licenses for the compositions from performance rights organizations ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR. Music users must obtain synchronization and master use licenses from the music publishers and record labels, respectively, along with paying negotiated fees to “synchronize” the audio with the visual elements. Also, rights’ owners may share in ad revenue in addition to or in lieu of those fees.

There is no evidence that Twitch has acquired any of these licenses. There is also no evidence that any broadcaster using music on Twitch obtains synchronization or master use licenses, or pays any fees for the use of music. 

YouTube, for example, has a content ID system that automatically detects and flags the use of copyrighted material. Twitch has no system like this, opting instead to leverage Audible Magic to track audio uses after a live stream is over. Twitch will mute infringing content in the on-demand re-broadcasts, but not all content is recognized and removed. There is also no system to flag these infringing uses or mute them during a live stream. 

In other words, if an artist hears their music being used without permission there is virtually no way to take action against the user (or Twitch).

There are rumors that The National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) is in negotiations with Twitch for licensing, but has not confirmed or commented as to the details.

The bottom line is, everyone deserves to be compensated for the use or their art. While some artists have endorsed streamers who play their music those decisions do not forgive the platform-wide decision to not go through proper channels to secure the rights to use music created by performers at every level of the business. 

That said, Twitch has launched a music FAQ page that encourages the use of music in the public domain. 

We’ll update this story as more information becomes available.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.