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Twitter Refuses To License Music, Pay Royalties [Op-Ed]

Attorney and artist advocate Chris Castle responds to a recent Pitchfork article by Eric Harvey which describes how intertwined Twitter is with music business, and how valuable a star-making tool it can be for artists. Castle counters that, while that may be the case, the company has done little to show that it values the musicians or music on its platform. __________________________________ Guest post by Chris Castle of Artist Rights Watch Eric Harvey has a great must-read article in Pitchfork about what he describes as “Music Twitter” (“How Twitter Changed Music“).  Mr. Harvey makes that case that Twitter was designed with both music and the music business in mind.  That is certainly true.  Twitter couldn’t be a more perfect way for pop and rap stars to connect with their fans and introduce new music.  If willing to put in the time (aka free labor for Twitter), artists from any genre can find it useful.  Unbelievable numbers of recordings are promoted, linked, streamed and talked about on Twitter. Mr. Harvey makes a point that many of us probably didn’t know: When Twitter was dreamed up, in fact, it was with music in mind. “This is why we built this thing! For concerts and music shows!” Noah Glass told fellow co-founder Jack Dorsey in 2006, according to Nick Bilton’s book, Hatching Twitter. At that point, when the site had only a handful of users, Glass and Dorsey road-tested Twitter at Coachella and attempted a partnership with the 2007 VMAs. As the site grew in popularity, Bilton recounts, pop stars made pilgrimages to the company’s modest San Francisco headquarters, like when a couple of Twitter engineers “found a member of the band blink-182, half-asleep and half-drunk, pouring a small bottle of gin into a bowl of Fruity Pebbles cereal, then chowing down on breakfast.” But after you read the post, I think you may realize that there’s a dog that didn’t bark–despite the fact that some of Jack Dorsey’s best friends may be musicians, Twitter has consistently refused to even accept the premise that the site needs licenses and should pay royalties.  However “intertwined” Twitter may be with the music business, the company steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that value by respecting business of the artists, songwriters, producers, musicians and vocalists who drive what Mr. Harvey shows pretty conclusively is a big chunk of Twitter’s value. Mr. Harvey dives into the many connections between the company’s founders who designed their product to free ride on the artists they claim to admire.  It is clear that Twitter owes a lot of its success to the star making machinery behind the popular song: Judging by the numbers alone, Twitter is more deeply intertwined with music than any other industry. Four of the top five—and half of the top 20—most-followed Twitter accounts are solo musicians. More than movie stars or major athletes, whose work is more obviously collaborative and done according to others’ scripts, the pop star/fan relationship maximizes what Twitter does best, fostering emotional connections rooted in the personal authenticity of a single, spectacular figure. This has led to an environment where millions of Twitter users are there purely to serve as foot soldiers in their idol’s digital army, and where the tantalizing (or mortifying) possibility of direct contact is always present. Maybe it’s time that Twitter did the right thing and stopped abusing the absurdly outdated DMCA safe harbor game of whack a mole.  Please let’s not be told that Twitter’s value is exposure or that data is worth having your rights ignored.  Data may be the new exposure, but you do have to ask how do people like Jack Dorsey sleep at night.

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