Game streaming platform Twitch is trying to solve a problem that has plagued it for months: how can you enforce copyright laws without limiting what players can do on the service? Today, the Amazon-owned company is launching the Twitch Music Library, which collects songs that are cleared for use on live streams or in archived video. It's part of Twitch's long-running expansion from video games — its original raison d'etre — to music.
Library includes songs from Skrillex and Steve Aoki's record labels
Twitch says there are currently about 500 songs in its archive, from indie labels that include Netherlands-based Spinnin Records, Brooklyn-based Fool's Gold, the Skrillex-founded OWSLA, musician Steve Aoki's label Dim Mak, and Monstercat, which grew out of a popular YouTube channel and makes music available on free streaming platforms. Several of these already have relationships with Twitch: Monstercat runs a 24-hour channel called Monstercat FM, Aoki performed in Twitch's first live concert in mid-2014, and OWSLA hosted a holiday party on Twitch in 2014.
The company clearly hopes to take its work with musicians further in the coming year. In 2014, it added a "Music" category for performances, and it will approve "certain established labels and artists" to hold radio-style shows and larger events like music festivals. This includes a partnership with DJ store Beatport, which will host a channel. Twitch also gives numbers for past work, saying that Aoki's concert garnered 400,000 total views. For context, the most popular live stream right now has around 30,000 concurrent viewers, and this summer's massive Dota 2 tournament had over 2 million concurrent viewers through Twitch and ESPN at its peak.
The library, however, is also a direct response to last year's crackdown on music streaming. Shortly before being acquired by Amazon in August, the company began screening archived videos (though not live streams) for copyrighted music, muting all audio if it was detected. Twitch suggested using royalty-free external libraries, but the system's false positives reportedly ended up muting audio of crowd noises, singing, and music owned by the streamer. It's the same set of growing pains that YouTube went through with its Content ID system, which has occasionally done things like take down videos of "copyrighted" bird songs.
In some ways, Twitch's solution is similar to that of YouTube, which provides a blanket copyright license for videographers through deals with major record labels. Tracks from the Twitch Video Library won't be flagged and muted in streams, just like their royalty-free counterparts. But the library takes things a step further, actively providing the songs. And more abstractly, it emphasizes the sense of community — where musicians, developers, and gamers work together — that Twitch has been taking pains to build.
Update January 15th, 4:10PM ET: Clarified Monstercat's distribution model: the company distributes music on free streaming platforms, rather than simply distributing it for free.