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How Amazon’s Twitch.tv Cheats Music Creators

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Infringement, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Performance, Record Labels, Royalties, Streaming, Videos, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com.

Music creators (songwriters and performing artists) and rights’ owners (music publishers and record labels) are not collecting a new and substantial source of income – and most of them are not aware they are not collecting it. Enter Twitch, the website exploiting creators and owners without paying for a single cent of music usage.

What is Twitch

Twitch, a subsidiary of Amazon, is a live-streaming video platform that has “over two million broadcasters and 15 million daily active users.” Anyone can become a Twitch “broadcaster,” meaning users set up their own channels and live-stream various content, which includes, but is not limited to, video-game play, card games, pranks, craft tutorials and more.

The broadcasts start out as live streams and are saved on the channel for re-broadcasts and on-demand watching. Watching videos and channels on Twitch is free and publicly accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Anyone can become a Twitch broadcaster for free and earn money directly from viewers. Broadcasters that contract with Twitch to become a partner or affiliate will earn money from Twitch directly, as well as from viewers. All revenue streams are described in the next two sections.

Income Earned by Twitch and Twitch Partners/Affiliates

  1. Ad Revenue: Twitch serves ads on all video content, which includes video-on-demand and pre-rolls, and collects ad revenue from showing these ads.
  2. Subscriptions: Viewers can subscribe to a particular broadcaster’s channel at pricing tiers of $4.99, $9.99, and $24.99, with these charges recurring monthly.These subscriptions allow viewers to support broadcasters and use special emotes (chat icons like emojis) that are accessible only to subscribers of a particular broadcaster’s channel.
  3. Bits: Viewers can contribute “bits” to a broadcaster during a stream. Bits are a digital currency within Twitch bought by users for real money, and contributing these bits to a broadcaster is basically like adding money to that broadcaster’s tip jar.
  4. Amazon Prime: Because Twitch is owned by Amazon, Prime members can use “tokens” from their Prime membership to subscribe to broadcaster channels on Twitch. Tokens renew every month, so a Prime member can re-subscribe to a broadcaster’s channel on a monthly basis using Prime tokens.

Twitch and the broadcaster split all income from subscriptions, bits, and Prime tokens, usually on at least a 50/50 basis.

Income Earned Directly by Broadcasters

  1. Donations:Viewers can contribute money directly to a broadcaster through third party services like StreamLabs, Muxy or StreamElements without buying bits.
  2. Media Share: Viewers can make “media share requests” through StreamLabsand StreamElements, meaning viewers can request a broadcaster to play a certain song, YouTube video, or other media within a live stream (hereinafter “Media Share(s)”). Prices for Media Shares are set by the broadcaster, and some broadcasters will start their pricing at $5 per request.

A Twitch Broadcaster’s Earnings

Twitch’s most popular broadcaster is 26-year old Tyler Blevins, known on Twitch as “Ninja.” Ninja reportedly earns over $500,000 per month on Twitch revenue alone, not counting his recent sponsorship deals by Red Bull and Uber. A recent Forbes article reported Ninja’s earnings calculation: “160,000 subscribers at a higher $3.50 rate per sub means he’s pulling in $560,000 a month from that revenue stream alone. Not counting Twitch bits. Not counting donations. Not counting 4 million YouTube subscribers.”

Ninja and most other broadcasters also use music in their streams. None of this music is licensed and none of this money is going to the music creators or rights’ owners.

Music Licenses Required

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.

It should also be considered whether a broadcaster who repeatedly uses a particular song as a theme song or channel staple (like when Ninja does a victory dance at every game win to the song, “Pon Pon Pon”, performed by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) is implying an association with or (false) endorsement by an artist, similar to when political candidates use certain songs in their campaigns.

How Music Rights are Being Violated

First, there is no evidence that Twitch has valid performance licenses in place from ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or GMR (although they may be working on it). Therefore, Twitch is not paying for the repeated performances of music to audiences of millions.

Second, it is not known that any broadcaster using music on Twitch obtains synchronization or master use licenses, or pays any fees for the use of music. Also, neither Twitch nor the broadcasters are sharing ad revenue with rights’ owners.

Third, Twitch does not have its own content ID system like YouTube to track and claim uses of music. Twitch leverages Audible Magic to track audio uses after a live stream is over and will mute infringing content in the on-demand re-broadcasts, but not all content is recognized and removed. Also, there is no system to flag these infringing uses or mute them during a live stream.

All of the money earned by Twitch and its partner/affiliate broadcasters for subscriptions, bits, and Prime membership is retained entirely by Twitch and its partners/affiliates, and money earned from donations and Media Share song requests is kept entirely by the broadcasters. None of these funds are allocated to music creators and rights’ owners whose music is being used in these broadcasts.

Current State of Affairs

On June 22, 2018, the Twitch community received a shock when a group of its most popular broadcasters were banned from Twitch for playing a leaked version of a new song by rapper Juice Wrld that was initiated via Media Share song requests. Interscope Records issued DMCA takedown notices, and per Twitch policy, each infringer was banned for 24-hours.

This incident has shed a light on the use of uncleared music by Twitch broadcasters, but many have either continued with playing uncleared content or will not include certain music in the broadcasts. Ninja has turned off music content so he can then repost videos to YouTube in order to avoid YouTube claims by rights’ owners and keep his YouTube ad revenue. Ninja has publicly stated, “I’ve already reached out about getting rights to music … you can still get screwed over for playing music that doesn’t belong to you. … It’s such a nightmare, that it’s just not worth it.”

Interscope later supposedly stated the DMCA takedowns were an accident and Juice Wrld apologized to the Twitch broadcasters, saying “I will do what I can to prevent it from happening again.”

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

Furthermore, Twitch isn’t the only site on the market. There are other, similar sites such as Mixer (owned by Microsoft), Facebook Gaming, YouTube Gaming, and Caffeine. There are also other music-centric sites, like Smule, using music in audiovisual content purportedly without permission or payment. More of these websites, as well as phone apps, with user-generated content, continue to emerge and the rate at which more new platforms are introduced is unlikely to slow due to the prevalence of streaming.

The Real Problems

First, rights’ owners are not enforcing their rights and making sure they receive payment for uses of their content. As stated at the beginning of this article, many creators and rights’ owners do not even know about these infringements. Those rights owners’ that are aware, like Interscope, have allowed the rumors of “accidental” takedowns to be the last word on the subject instead of taking a stand to protect their rights.

Second, Juice Wrld is an example of at least one artist condoning the Twitch broadcasters’ unauthorized use of his work instead of getting paid. Artists and songwriters can and should benefit from these uses, and condoning the infringing behavior allows for more of it, as well as a further loss of income to the creators and rights’ owners.

Third, streamers are often ignorant of how to obtain permission. Noah Downs, a video game lawyer at McDonald, Sutton & DuVal in Richmond, VA observes, “Some broadcasters reach out to artists directly, thinking that if the artist tweets ‘Sure, use my music!’ then it must be okay to use. It does not matter if a broadcaster has that kind of permission from the artist – generally the decision is up to the label.”

Fourth, many streamers feel entitled to play music without permission under the belief they are actually helping artists by giving them exposure. Famous artists and songs do not need free promotion from Twitch broadcasters – they are already famous. While exposure might be helpful for new artists to gain fans, it still doesn’t need to be for free.  For example, music service Pretzel Rocks and music company Monstercat have agreements with artists allowing music to be played legally on Twitch broadcasts with compensation being paid to the artists and songwriters.

In an ironic twist, Twitch viewers and broadcasters frequently use and repurpose clips of other Twitch broadcasters’ content without permission. The broadcasters complain about this practice and will submit content claims when their content is used without permission, but they fail to realize that they are doing the same thing to music creators and rights’ owners. Downs agrees, stating, “In many ways, broadcasters and musical artists are the same, and both deserve to be paid fairly.”

The bottom line is that allcreators and rights’ owners need to be properly compensated for uses of their work. Rather than ignoring or condoning infringing behavior, creators and rights’ owners need to keep up with new uses of music and take a stand to protect the value of their music and their livelihoods.

It’s time creators stopped feeling entitled to steal from and deprive each other of the fruits of their labor. It’s time people realized that using music without permission or payment not only cheats the creator or performer, but also impacts everyone that works for them or with them. It’s time the culture of all creators shifts to one of respecting one’s own work enough to get paid for it and respecting the work of others enough to get the proper permissions and pay the proper compensation. It’s time that everyone gets serious about valuing music.

 

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Click here to contact Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. if she can assist you in your career with this issue or other music industry issues. (Ms. Jacobson does not shop, litigate, or accept unsolicited material.)

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This Trial Will Determine Songwriters’ Income Over the Next 5 Years

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Categories: Copyright, Music, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com.

When a song has millions of streams on Spotify and views on YouTube, most people think “Wow, that artist must be making a ton of money!” It’s easy to make that assumption when music superstars are seen on television wearing designer clothing and leaving the hottest nightclubs in town, only to drive away in their Bentley to charter a private plane to their yacht.

What most people don’t realize is that the above is 1) often an image, 2) accessible to only a small number of music creators within the music business, and 3) there are songwriters who wrote those hit songs and the music publishers that represent those songwriters who are earning a mere $10 per 1 million Pandora streams.

Here’s how the structure works. A songwriter writes a composition, which is usually owned or co-owned by a music publisher, a company that handles the management, exploitation and royalty collection for that composition. The music publisher and songwriter split the income from that composition. The main royalties paid for a composition are mechanical royalties for the reproduction of that composition on CDs and via digital means on iTunes and streaming services, and performance royalties paid when a composition is performed in public. Synchronization fees come into play when a composition is used in television or film, but that is a negotiated contract fee separate from a royalty.

While performance royalties have recently been in dispute, this article focuses on mechanical royalties. Mechanical rates are set by the United States government, specifically by a panel of judges called the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB). The CRB determines the royalty rates paid to songwriters and music publishers for every sale of a composition via CD or digital service like iTunes, as well as every time that composition is streamed on services like Spotify, Pandora, etc. The current mechanical rates are 9.1¢ for a sale (split by the music publisher and the songwriter), and streaming mechanicals are fractions of a cent per play.

This month, the CRB has opened hearings to set new mechanical royalty rates, which will be in effect from 2018 through 2022. The CRB will hear testimony from both music creators and music users and will make its decision in December 2017.

While this trial may not be hot news for anyone outside of the music industry, it will determine the amount of money music creators can earn for the next five years.

The music users’ side includes representatives from digital giants like Google, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon and Apple. These companies are lobbying to further decrease the royalties paid to music creators. For example, Apple wants to pay a flat fee of 9.1¢ per every 100 streams on Apple Music. Companies like Google, Amazon and Apple make billions of dollars per year, and Spotify and Pandora are not profitable but have billions invested in them, yet not one of these companies is willing to allocate more money towards the people that create the music on which they have built their businesses. It is also worth noting that not only have these companies built their business models on music but also are using music to promote their services, such as Amazon using free music streaming to sell Prime subscriptions.

The National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) and Nashville Songwriter’s Association (NSAI) are representing music publishers and songwriters at the CRB hearings. “[Tech companies are] creating new ways to distribute music [and] they are also fighting in this trial to pay as little to songwriters for the songs that drive their businesses,” wrote David Israelite, president and CEO of NMPA in a letter to songwriters. “[A] rate structure that allows global tech companies to build their empires on the backs of songwriters, without providing those songwriters with fair compensation, is unsustainable.”

The NMPA has issued an open letter to the digital giant companies, urging them to work with songwriters and music publishers instead of fighting against them. The letter is accompanied by a petition, which has already received over 7,800 signatures.

As I have previously written, the music industry will continue to wither without fair compensation to its creators and those that represent them. Creators of music are not all rich superstars. They are regular people with amazing talents to create music that impacts lives around the world. They are people with families and mortgages and bills to pay. They may not work a 9-5 office job, but that doesn’t make them different than the average American, who earns money from a job, and why shouldn’t songwriters and their representatives earn as well?

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogs, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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Interview with Steven Corn of BFM Digital

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Categories: Digital Distribution, Music Industry, Music Industry Interviews, Uncategorized, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 To kick off my first in a series of interviews with music industry professionals, I had a chat with Steven Corn of BFM Digital.

bfm_header_logo

 

BFM Digital is a digital distribution, marketing, and promotions company for select music, film, and other digital content.  BFM distributes its diverse catalog via all the leading digital and mobile platforms worldwide.

 

1.  Please explain a bit more about your company, BFM Digital.

BFM Digital distinguishes itself through its boutique size, personalized customer service and quality catalog.  Representing only select labels and artists allows us to become a true partner and advocate for our client’s digital goals. We work one-on-one with clients to develop a comprehensive release schedule. Further, we interface with clients about pricing and marketing strategies aiming to increase revenue and maximize exposure of their content.

Conversely, BFM also works closely with the leading digital services to promote our catalog on their storefronts through featured placements and product promotions. The strength of our relationships with them enables us to be aware of various promotional opportunities for which we will submit your titles if they are the right fit.

2.  Describe a typical day at the office for you.

During breakfast, I check on the previous sales for iTunes, Amazon and Youtube and make a note of any interesting trends or unexpected sales.  On the way to work (a 45 min commute), I often will skype from my cell phone to one of our European tech partners or distributed labels.  It’s a great way to kill the commute.  I also create my daily to-do in my head while I commute.  Usually the first thing that I do after arriving is to review the back log of agreements that need my review and attention.  I try to get to at least a couple each day.  Next up would be to meet with our delivery department to see if there are any new issues that have arisen.  I’ll look at financials and cash flow statements along the way.  At some point, I’ll discuss potential marketing submissions to the DSPs with my VP of Marketing.  Mixed into the fray is reviewing potential new content providers, reading up on trending news, and seeing how various biz dev workflows are proceeding.  Generally, there are several fires to put out and that can disrupt any plans that I created along my commute.  If I’m lucky, I get to complete 50% of my daily goals.

3. What is your favorite part of your job?

I love tracking the success of a digital compilation that my A&R team created.  We make inter- and intra-label virtual albums to create new retail sku’s from existing catalog.  It’s such a rewarding feeling to see these start to sale.  Creating a new revenue-earning product from nothing is very satisfying.  A close second is when I see one of our needy, indie artists start to make money from their digital catalog.  Our payments have literally housed some of our more financially challenged artists.  Getting them off the streets into decent housing is one of the greatest motivations for being in business.

4.  What do you think is the most profitable area of the music industry for independent artists today?

If you can get an album or catalog to sell across borders, that can be immensely profitable considering the cost efficiencies.  However,  it seems that on a per-unit basis, ringtones and limited edition vinyls present the best profit margins.  But for many, a good synch placement trumps download sales.  Those are few and far in-between in this competitive market for synch’s.

5. What do you look for when you are signing artists?

First, the music has to be high quality.  It doesn’t matter what the genre is.  I have experts in all genres on my staff who can evaluate submissions.  However, good music, regardless of genre, is usually self-evident.  As important as the music is a good strategy.  We need the artist and label to commit to making their product a success.  This means developing and executing a marketing plan.  This doesn’t have to be anything complex or expensive.  All we are looking for is some form of creative and consistent activity.  Without having the proper ammunition, there is little that we can do to assist an artist or label to achieve the next level of success.

6. What would you say is the single most important thing independent artists can do to help grow their careers?

It’s actually two things.  First, gig and gig.  It is important to develop your local market as fully as possible.  These will be the fans that will spread the word.  Secondly, develop a plan.  With very few exceptions, albums without a release strategy and a well thought out plan, rarely succeed.  Take the time to figure out how you want to build momentum and fans.  It always pays off to do so.

7.   Today, everything is online and there is so much content from an infinite number of sites and platforms.  How can artist or band can make itself stand out when there is so much content from so many artists on every digital retailer/platform?

With up to 30 million tracks on some digital services, it is most definitely a crowded marketplace.  While there is no simple strategy for getting your music discovered more easily on the music stores, there is assuredly a very easy way to make your music harder to find.  That would be to just “set it and forget it” (as the infamous infomercial states).  It is more important than ever to develop an action plan to keep your fans engaged and interested.  This can be anything ranging from  a series of homemade videos, blog entries, to candid behind-the-scenes photos or videos. One email blast or tweet orFacebook post is simply not enough.  An artist needs to have a consistent and continuous stream of interactions with their fans to increase discoverability on these services.

 

Thanks to Steve for sharing his thoughts!  I’ll be sharing more interviews soon.