“Your Video Was Not Posted”: An Addendum

By Carolyn Wimbly Martin and Ethan Barr

Professionals in the music industry who rely on live performances of licensed content—particularly DJs—continue to navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and seek answers regarding the most copyright-friendly live-streaming services. See our earlier blog on this subject.  Twitch, one of those technology companies which serves as a platform for live-streaming video games, had received significant criticism for permitting streams containing unlicensed music.

Twitch, which Amazon acquired in 2014, operates under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) “safe harbor” provision, which protects widely used online platforms from copyright infringement liability so long as they respond to takedown notices from rights owners. Therefore, it inevitably permits many musical works to fall through its flimsy protection system. As a result, licensing organizations began to warn copyright owners and potential licensees about the company’s practices.

Now those warnings have amplified. During a House Judiciary Committee antitrust hearing in July 2020, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claimed that he did not know if Twitch was allowing streams with unlicensed music. Just a few weeks later, the Artist Rights Alliance (ARA), an artist-run non-profit aimed at protecting artists’ rights in the digital landscape, has published a letter that criticizes Bezos’s comments as “willful blindness and vague platitudes.” The letter urges Bezos to expressly state if Twitch has permitted unlicensed music and, if so, to fairly compensate artists whose music is used.

On a similar note, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property recently held a hearing on whether DMCA takedown notices have sufficiently hindered online piracy activity in the 21st century, a decision which could have major implications. But for now, DJs should continue to avoid using Twitch. Although Bezos has yet to respond to the ARA letter and no action by Congress is imminent, copyright owners should stay tuned.