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Which Licenses Do I Need for My Livestream as a Musician or DJ?

Video recording of a livestream concert

Clearly, the world has changed in the last couple of months. COVID-19 has forced artists and bands to postpone live gigs, creating a situation that nobody has experienced before: We’re all stuck at home.

A lot of musicians have therefore explored new ways of connecting with their audience, with live streamed events becoming the new status quo of remote togetherness. Twitch, the number one live streaming platform for gamers, for example, has seen an increase of 101% of hours streamed between March and April 2020 as compared to last year.

While setting up a livestream concert is one thing, there seems to be quite a lack of information when it comes to copyright questions regarding music livestreams on the worldwide web and copyright law in general. In this blog article we’ll show you where you can stream what and which precautions you should take.

Do I need a streaming license for my online concert if I want to stream to Facebook Live, YouTube or another social media platform?

If you are a band or musician and you are the performance rights holder of your tracks, you are allowed to perform those songs live — in real life and on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and others.

A few performance rights organizations (PROs) have specific agreements with platforms. The German GEMA, the Swedish STIM and the British PRS for example started what is now called ICE (International Copyright Enterprise) and agreed on a copyright licensing contract with social channels like YouTube, Facebook, Twitch and Twitter. You don’t need a separate license if you want to livestream on those platforms in most of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The platforms pay a fee to the local performance rights societies and their members will get paid for their live performances in return. PRS offers some valuable information on that copyright license agreement.

If you are a DJ and you are planning to broadcast a set online, it might get a little more tricky. Because you usually don’t own the copyrights for the recordings you are playing, you might have to pay a fee to the local performance rights society or get the licenses from all copyright holders.

But let’s start at the beginning and one platform at a time.

How can I livestream my own songs in a live concert on Facebook & Instagram without getting muted?

Again, you are the rightsholder of your songs and Facebook and Instagram accept that. Nevertheless, it does happen that one or the other will often block live streamed events, even when you own all the rights. Facebook and Instagram do that to protect those rights for you — so it actually isn’t a bad thing. There is a way to prevent your live video from getting muted though: Ask your distributor to whitelist your Facebook or Instagram page well in advance of your scheduled livestream.

If you distribute your music with iMusician, just send us a quick note to whitelist@imusician.pro with a link to the artist page on which you will be broadcasting your concert and we will take care of it. Please note that it can take a couple of days, before your page is whitelisted. You will still only be able to broadcast your own content, so plan your set accordingly. Otherwise, and once again, Facebook might mute your video if it detects copyrighted content which you don’t own the rights for.

If you are still facing issues with your own content and videos on Facebook you can always appeal those copyright strikes through Facebook’s appeal form. Make sure you have all the information ready to prove that you are the copyrights holder of your content.

What do I have to know when I livestream my concert on YouTube?

YouTube has its own “audio tracking device”, aka the YouTube Content ID. If you are monetizing your songs on YouTube, everyone who is using your song will get a notification that says: “A copyright owner using Content ID claimed some material in your video.” This is not a copyright strike and it won’t block the video from being online. This notification just let’s the owner of the channel know that the video will be monetized by the Content ID owner.

If you are streaming your own material live from a YouTube channel other than your own and you don’t want the channel to receive that claim, you can whitelist the channel in advance. Just as mentioned before: Send a short email to whitelist@imusician.pro with the link to the channel you would like to be whitelisted and we’ll take care of it. Please note that you won’t receive any ad money from that video if you whitelist the channel.

If you are the copyright holder of the content you are performing, you shouldn’t get a copyright claim on your videos from YouTube. If it does happen however, you can dispute the claim in your YouTube Studio dashboard.

The live streaming platform Twitch is relatively new on the music industry side of things. The gaming platform has been actively trying to broaden its target audience to musicians and bands. Twitch might be best described as the Instagram of livestreaming and you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already!

From a copyright licensing perspective, Twitch is similar to Facebook. You own the copyrights? You can do whatever you like with it. You don’t? You will very likely be flagged and your video muted. Twitch also works with an audio recognition system, so copyrighted material will not be streamed unnoticed. But, as you are dealing with a computer, the occasional muting of a video might still occur, even if you own the copyrights.

If you think your video has been incorrectly flagged you can just fill in the appeal form in the Video Producer section of your Twitch dashboard. Unfortunately you won’t be able to whitelist your Twitch account in advance, as they are not an actual music platform. Your digital distributor doesn’t upload your songs to the platform, hence Twitch doesn’t necessarily know that you are the creator of that piece of content.

Do I need a streaming license for my DJ set if I want to stream to Facebook Live, Instagram Live and Twitch?

Even though the Facebook recognition systems might not pick up on every live performance of a song, they will pick up recorded songs. Same for Instagram and Twitch. If your DJ set mainly consists of playing other artists’ tracks and you are not the copyright holder, chances are you will get flagged and muted. In its updated guidelines Facebook says: “The greater the number of full-length recorded tracks in a video, the more likely it may be limited.”

Yes, as mentioned above, there are PROs which have agreements with social media platforms. Those agreements cover the private use of recorded music in videos on social media platforms. When there’s a high amount of recorded tracks in a video, Facebook et al. might be skeptical about how private your endeavor is though. In reality, Facebook and Instagram tend to flag and mute videos if it isn’t clear if you hold the copyrights for the songs you’re playing.

On top of that, rules and regulations differ from country to country, which doesn’t make things easier. If you are a DJ in Switzerland, for example, you can get a license from SUISA for your livestream. Once granted you are definitely good to go. Again, check the website of your local performance rights organizations such as BMI, Socan, STIM etc. for further details on your specific region.

Does YouTube Content ID cover my DJ set?

Another option for livestreams is YouTube. As mentioned above the YouTube content ID scans the songs that are being used in your live set. The copyright owners of the tracks you are playing can decide to block your video or to monetize it. If you are playing songs by well known artists, especially artists on major record labels, you have to expect that your livestream will get blocked.

So which artists are going to block my videos, you might ask? YouTube created a Music Policy Directory which gives you all the information and shows you if songs are available for use in videos or not. If songs are available for use in videos, the copyright owner will monetize your videos and receive the ad money.

Another option is to get the permissions from the copyright holders for the tracks you’re playing. In this case you will need to contact every one of them and ask them to whitelist your page or channel. This seems like a lot of work, true, but it is a way to livestream legitimately. If they agree to whitelist your YouTube channel, you will even be able to keep the earnings through video ads.

Always an option for DJs: Mixcloud

A legal alternative to livestreams on socials can be Mixcloud — especially when you’re playing lots of copyrighted content. The downside is that it doesn’t support video, it’s audio only. Mixcloud is a user-generated internet music platform and has a copyright licensing framework with rights holders all over the world, which means Mixcloud will pay the royalties for the content you upload. There are a few requirements for your uploads on Mixcloud, which you can check out on their website.

Bottom line

If you own the content you are planning to perform in a livestream you can whitelist your profile to not get flagged. You are the rightsholder and you can perform your music wherever you like. In some countries the performance fees are already covered by social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitch and Twitter. If you get flagged or muted, make sure you dispute the claim right when it pops up.

If you don’t own the rights for the tracks you’re planning to play in your livestream you should get the permission by the rights holders (and whitelist your page or channel) or a license from your local performance rights organization before the livestream.

In any case, we highly recommend checking out your local PRO’s (like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in the USA for example) website before you schedule your livestream to make sure you are in line with the copyright law and you’re not getting in trouble later.

Yes, this topic is a rather complex one. But muting and blocking videos truly is an attempt by the platforms to protect intellectual property and therefore an approach to support artists and bands out there.

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