when will roblox, twitch and twitter start paying songwriters?

May, 20 2022

Songwriters are living in a time of abundance. Digital media and distribution have given you, the songwriter, the ability to reach a worldwide audience through social media, video games, streaming services, and countless other platforms being developed. As we enter the age of Web 3.0 and the Metaverse, it is more important than ever to have a fair system to compensate you for your creative works.

The challenge is that many of these platforms are new, and the framework to ensure that songwriters are being paid may not be fully developed.  Compounding this issue is the Silicon Valley development model of “invent it now and pay
the songwriters later.”

The National Music Publishers Association is an advocacy organization for publishers and songwriters and has filed several copyright infringement lawsuits against services like Roblox, Spotify, Twitch, Twitter, and others to bring attention to this issue and help songwriters get paid fairly for their work. 

The NMPA and Licensing Songs Moving Forward

The NMPA was first founded in 1917 and is the trade association responsible for advancing the interests of music publishers and songwriters in matters relating to the domestic and global protection of music copyrights.  The Association's goal is to advocate for members' songs by proposing legislation and regulations to protect the copyright holders and support its members when litigation becomes necessary.

In 2016 the NMPA and Spotify announced a settlement in which publishers would receive royalties for compositions Spotify already used in its catalog in the US.  This was the first in a series of negotiations, lawsuits, and settlements with technology platforms.

NMPA Settlements with Roblox and Twitch

The past 18 months have been busy ones for the NMPA. David Israelite, the President, and CEO of the NMPA, has been negotiating and reaching agreements with many online content providers. They include companies as diverse as TikTok and Peloton. He has also moved into the Metaverse and gaming spheres after reaching settlements with ROBLOX and Twitch to pay publishers their royalties due for the songs used on those platforms. 

In 2021, within a week of each other, gaming and video giants Twitch and Roblox reached agreements with the NMPA.  The Roblox community consists of over 48 million daily active users.  Each user creates and plays their own games and spend real money on Robux, a cryptocurrency used to purchase virtual items.  Players used to be able to buy a virtual boombox and then go to the “library” to load it up for a small fee.

Twitch users were including copywritten material in their live streams.  While they had a system for flagging protected material and giving the users DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Copyright strikes, it has been loosely enforced.

The agreements reached with Twitch and Roblox require both services to obtain licenses and pay royalties for the use of protected music. Negotiations have begun with both services, and they are currently building productive partnerships with music publishers to obtain synch and mechanical licenses to pay royalties. While the licensing process is underway, it is still unclear when rightsholders will begin receiving payments.

When Will Twitter Deliver?

The music industry has been frustrated by one aspect of Twitter's business model – to date, they have never negotiated any licensing deals with publishers or major labels.  While Twitter never started out as a company that leverages or relies on music, it has certainly grown into one.  With more than 200 million unique daily users, Twitter is a potential source of significant revenue for songwriters.

Twitter is another example of big tech's mantra of “invent it now and pay the songwriters later.” Instead of negotiating licensing deals, the platform has relied on the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  The law provides platforms like Twitter with a “safe harbor” from copyright infringement as long as users respond to takedown notices within a specified timeframe.

Twitter is often overlooked when it comes up in conversations about music piracy since it is not considered a music platform.  However, a lot of music is being played all over the site.  There are a few factors that further incentivize companies like Twitter to avoid negotiating with publishers for the use of their music.  First of course is the DMCA, which acts as a failsafe for companies that want to include user-generated content.  And then there’s Wall Street pressure.  Companies like Twitter want to avoid incurring licensing costs in order to achieve profitability.  In fact, Twitter currently stands alone as the only major social media company that has not licensed the music shared on the platform by millions of users every day.

A New Sheriff In Town

Elon Musk's much-publicized deal to purchase Twitter offers a ray of hope for songwriters. Musk is a creator and recognizes the necessity of paying music creators.  He has publicly stated that he wants to take this opportunity to work with the industry instead of against it as Twitter has in the past.

Industry experts are cautiously optimistic that Twitter may change its policies in the future and start down the path of paying for the content used on their site. Fixing music piracy on Twitter may not be at the top of Musk's list of priorities, however he has stated in recent interviews that he “looks forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock Twitter's full potential." 

The Licensing Landscape is Changing

The digital landscape is evolving, and part of that evolution is standardizing the licensing of music and the payment of royalties. As the landscape gets more complex, it's more important than ever to have a company rallying by your side--one that understands the complexities and nuances of the industry and licensing process.

As an independent artist, it's more important than ever for you to have a team that can handle your publishing rights.  A music publishing administrator can help you organize your catalog, license your songs, and get you paid for all the worldwide usages of your music.  As more tech companies flow out of Silicon Valley, and follow the lead of Roblox and Twitch, it becomes all the more critical for you to have an advocate who will ensure you’re compensated fairly for the music you want to share with the world.