Yesterday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (and his *sigh* bitcoin clock) made an appearance before a US House hearing about online extremism and misinformation. Copyright wasn’t the matter at hand, but a group of music industry bodies took the opportunity anyway to criticise Twitter for its attitude towards music licensing.
The letter, sent by a group including the RIAA, NMPA, Recording Academy, A2IM and Artist Rights Alliance, got straight to the point. “We want to call your attention to Twitter’s related failure to meet the most basic standards of responsible moderation with respect to other illegal activity – specifically, the rampant theft of creative works on its platform,” they wrote, addressing the politicians who were about to question Dorsey.
“While Twitter publicly claims to support artists and creativity, in the real world, it erects almost insurmountable obstacles to artists and creators trying to protect their work online… Twitter has become a major player in the distribution and consumption of commercial music, much of it without authorization or any kind of license. As a result, the music industry sent over 2 million infringement notices to Twitter last year.”
The letter went on to claim that more than 200k of those notices dealt with pre-release leaks; that Twitter’s own search function regularly suggests adding ‘leak’ when someone types in the name of an artist; and that for more than 100 “obvious pre-release accounts” the company “does nothing to proactively find and address these accounts, leaving it to artists, songwriters and their label and publishers partners to do all the work”.
The music bodies also outline what they want Twitter to do about this. First: “free access to an API at scale” for reporting infringement. Second: either developing or licensing in copyright protection technologies. And third: “licensing and paying for the music that it uses”, with the letter throwing in a final punch at Twitter’s “long track record of broken promises, indifference, and outright extortion when it comes to artists and music creators”.
We’ve been here before many times with rightsholders criticising digital platforms over takedowns and licensing. The usual outcome (as seen with Triller and the NMPA this week) is some kind of licensing deal, and a return to sweetness and light. Twitter’s value for artists as a promotional platform, and artists’ value to Twitter as some of its most popular users, should be incentive for a deal.
We’re not entirely sure whether the recent deal involving Dorsey’s other company, Square, taking majority ownership of music streaming service Tidal is a complication or an opportunity for these wranglings. Could some kind of Tidal integration for Twitter offer a path towards properly-licensed music on the latter platform? Could rightsholders try to exert pressure on Twitter via their dealings with Tidal?
In any case, our conclusion on this battle is pretty much the same as for other, similar arguments. We’ve seen the benefits, in terms of royalties but also creative new features and artist partnerships, when the likes of Facebook/Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok have licensing deals. For Twitter (and Twitch too, as the other obvious current example) such deals should not just be a money-sinkhole, but should enable them to do even more with music – to both sides’ benefit.