Twitch partners with indie music licensing group Merlin

Twitch will strike up a partnership with independent digital music licensing group Merlin, marking the Amazon-owned livestreaming platform’s latest effort to get cozy with the recording industry.

The deal emphasizes how Merlin’s independent artists can leverage Twitch’s livestreaming ecosystem and in turn how those artists will bolster Twitch’s vision to expand further into content beyond gaming.

Merlin and Twitch note that the partnership will “unlock live experiences worldwide” and open new marketing channels for Merlin members, including through Twitch’s incubator for musicians, The Collective.

Merlin represents tens of thousands of independent labels globally, including Anjunabeats, Armada Music, Beggars Group, Empire, MNRK Music Group, Epitaph Records, Lex Records, Mad Decent, Secret City and Sub Pop.

In recent months, Twitch has solidified relationships with some of the major record labels that previously criticized the company over its lax approach to copyright enforcement. After building a reputation for inaction, the company swung the other way, coming down hard on users who play unlicensed music on their livestreams.

Now, Twitch appears to be seeking a middle ground, establishing preliminary deals that stop short of full music licensing agreements. The companies declined to share the financial specifics of the arrangement.

“Merlin and our members are excited to enter into this partnership with Twitch and grow our relationship,” Merlin CEO Jeremy Sirota told TechCrunch. “Every partnership has a starting point, and we look forward to building a long and fruitful relationship between Twitch and Merlin members and their artists.”

With the onset of the pandemic, more DJs and musicians turned to Twitch to build and engage with their audiences. The companies noted that the deal would open new paths for its artists to grow on Twitch, offering them “dedicated support” on the platform.

“Our partnership with Merlin affords their members’ independent artists an on-ramp to our devoted and engaged Twitch community,” Twitch Head of Music Tracy Chan said in the announcement.

Last week, Amazon and Universal Music announced an agreement that would give Amazon Music users access to more HD music across Universal’s vast catalogue. As part of the deal, Twitch will also work with Universal to give its artists “commercial opportunities” to engage with fans as well as establishing artist and label channels on the livestreaming platform.

The company struck a similar deal with Warner Music Group last September and announced that it would also give Warner and other music rights holders a new system for dealing with streams that share unlicensed music. So far, Twitch’s deals with Merlin, Warner and Universal haven’t broadened the catalog of licensed music available to its creators, but those inroads could pave the way for deeper relationships.

Two years ago, Twitch launched a tool called Soundtrack to help streamers find licensed music, though at that time the company lacked any relationships with the major record labels. The tool was designed to steer streamers toward a limited pool of approved music, lessening instances of muted or deleted VOD archives and strikes against users’ accounts for using unlicensed audio.

Since 2020, Twitch has fielded waves of DMCA takedowns when unauthorized music popped up in creators’ streams. The company’s handling of those requests has been contentious, with streamers pushing back against Twitch for suddenly deleting their archived videos without warning. Following one such DMCA crackdown on the platform in late 2020, Twitch streamers complained that they had no way to identify which pieces of content might have run afoul of music licensing rules after getting a notice.

The aggressive posture was a response to mounting pressure from major players in the music industry. “Twitch continues to turn a blind eye to the same users repeatedly violating the law while pocketing the proceeds of massive unlicensed uses of recorded music,” RIAA CEO Mitch Glazier said as tensions between Twitch and major labels ran hot back in 2020.

Last September, Twitch entered a deal with the National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) that established a “more flexible and forgiving” system for reporting streamers who aren’t deliberately using music they don’t own the rights to, focusing instead on “flagrant” violations, like livestreaming a concert. In the new system, streamers receive warnings before facing account-level repercussions for inadvertent violations.