ARA Challenges Bezos on Twitch Royalties
Washington, D.C. — The Artist Rights Alliance, an artist-run, nonprofit fighting for songwriters and musicians in the modern music economy, released a letter sent today to Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos following up on his controversial recent testimony regarding Amazon’s Twitch streaming service. Under questioning at this month’s House Judiciary Committee hearing by Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Bezos claimed not to know if Twitch — which his company has owned since 2014 — allows users to stream unlicensed music.
ARA Board Member Tift Merritt called on Amazon to do better: “Jeff Bezos could not answer to Congress if Amazon’s Twitch live streaming service permitted its users to post unlicensed music. The music artists create is not only sacred in spirit and deserving respect — it also merits fair pay no matter where and how it is used.”
The letter can be read in full below.
August 10, 2020
Jeffrey P. Bezos
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
410 Terry Ave., North
Seattle, WA 98109–5210
Dear Mr. Bezos,
We are the Executive Board of the Artist Rights Alliance, a non-profit organization comprised of working musicians, performers, and songwriters fighting for a healthy creative economy and fair treatment for artists in the digital world.
We respect Amazon and its many products and services that help fans and audiences find and enjoy creative works. We appreciate that Amazon offers a number of properly licensed streaming services.
Amazon’s Twitch subsidiary, however, is not one of those services. We have closely followed the rising controversy surrounding Twitch’s hosting and delivery of unlicensed music and the company’s apparent unwillingness to do anything beyond the most minimal and inadequate effort to process takedown requests and shift responsibility for systematic unpaid use of music on the platform to its users. For this reason, we were grateful that Representative Kelly Armstrong raised Twitch’s licensing issues during your recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee.
We were appalled, however, by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch’s practices in this regard.
Mr. Armstrong asked if it was correct that, “Twitch allows users to stream music but does not license the music.” You responded “I don’t know” and said you would look into it.
Given that Amazon is deeply involved in the music business with multiple overlapping products and services that involve licensing questions, including Prime Video, various Music services, audible books, and its massive Alexa and Echo home assistant business. The company has owned Twitch since 2014 — during which time the platform has grown into one of the “the most prevalent live music streaming medium[s],” including recently signing a multimillion dollar exclusive with the acclaimed rapper and record producer Logic. And Twitch itself has long been aware of its licensing challenges and shortcomings according to a recently surfaced memo on audible scanning operations sent to its users the year Amazon acquired the company.
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. For working songwriters and performers, fair royalties on a growing platform like Twitch can literally be a matter of life and death — the difference between having a place to live and homelessness and having access to health care or being uninsured. For other it’s the difference between being able to work as an artist or having to give up a lifetime of dreams.
For all these reasons, we ask you to provide a public answer to Congressman Armstrong’s question — does the Twitch platform allow users to post or stream unlicensed music? If the answer is “yes” we further ask you to explain what you are doing or plan to do to proactively stop that from happening and ensure that artists and songwriters are paid fair market value for the work when it is performed on Twitch?