Music is a big part of any successful stream. If you’re taking requests from your viewers, it adds an element of audience engagement to the proceedings. If you play music as a warm up before the stream starts like Kotaku, it keeps people from getting bored while they wait. Or if you use music in the background while you play, it augments the action onscreen, enhancing the entertainment value.
This all sounds swell, but it’s not as straightforward as it seems. Over the past few years, Twitch streamers have been hit with bans for using copyrighted music. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to avoid this fate: use stock music that’s approved for streaming. The rest of this article explains what streamers need to know about music copyright and where you can find stock music that’s actually good.
(Also, I’m not a lawyer; I’m just a lowly writer. Please don’t use any of what follows as legal advice.)
Why copyright matters for music
Music copyright is really complicated, so I’ll spare you from the legalese and give you the TL;DR version. There are people who own the rights to popular songs, which means they control how these songs get used. Typically, these people are a combination of songwriters, label suits, performing artists, and publishers.
To use a song someone owns the rights to, you need permission. You also need to pay a licensing fee and royalties. That’s a big way musicians and songwriters (and yes, record labels) profit off songs when they’re used in media, like movies and TV. If you rebel, put on a leather jacket, and stream a song you don’t have permission to use, you’ll have to deal with the long arm of the law.
In this case, that means an algorithm will find your video, match the song to a database, and send Twitch a notice. Twitch then gets triggered, and punishes you for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA for short.
“But what about Fair Use?” you ask. That’s a valid question, but Fair Use is actually a pretty poor shield to hide behind. I’ll let this guy explain why:
The state of copyright on Twitch
Copyright infringement is a murky area on Twitch. In its guidelines, Twitch clearly states it will respond to “clear notices of copyright infringement that fully comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” The guidelines go on to threaten any “repeat offenders” with account termination. As far as repeat offenders go, it appears there’s a three-strike system in play. Each ban or notice you receive is a strike against your channel. Three strikes and you’re out.
Sounds pretty serious. And Twitch has backed that up…intermittently.
Back in 2018, the platform banned 10 popular streamers for 24 hours for playing copyrighted music. A few from the group were unbanned shortly thereafter, while others had to suffer the penalty. Last year a streamer was hit with a ban due to using a song in a recorded session that was over a year old. Other bans continue to pop up, but rarely are they on a large scale. However, there are numerous livestreams that use copyrighted music and go unpunished. At the moment, Twitch doles out punishment for using songs without permission inconsistently. That’s probably because Twitch needs to be motivated to care. That means the copyright holders of any particular song (or other media, like CNN with the democratic debate) need to send a cease and desist to the streaming platform, which then takes action on the streamer.
Basically if you’re using copyrighted music, you’re taking a BIG gamble.
Where to find good, legal music for streaming
Even if it’s not that bad right now, DMCA strikes will probably become the norm as Twitch gets more serious about enforcing copyright. YouTube underwent a similar transformation. That’s just the way the internet works now. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of everything. You just need to adjust your approach. That means looking for royalty free music.
The term “royalty free” means you don’t have to pay royalties to whomever owns the rights to a song. How could this be? Well, it’s because almost all royalty free or stock music comes from stock music companies. These companies negotiate directly with artists to create music for the company’s audio libraries. All you have to do, dear streamer, is sign up and find songs that fit your channel.
Yes, there’s money involved, but most of these platforms are reasonably priced, and you get unlimited access to their song libraries. Plus, these are catalogues of legitimate songs made by professional musicians, not GarageBand neophytes.
If you don’t want to part with any coin, there are free options — you just have to work a little harder to find them. Twitch used to have a music library, but it mysteriously disappeared into the void. No comment from the company as to why. However, there’s still Pretzel, which is a music player built for livestreamers. There are also live playlists like Monstercat.fm that won’t bring DMCA wrath upon your channel. Look, adding music to your stream is a good idea. Your viewers will like it.
But these days it’s worth being careful about exactly what type of music you use. That’s not an impossible task; it just requires a bit of prepwork and research. Surely, that’s a fair tradeoff for a more engaging stream.
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