Artists step up against Big Tech

Guest commentary

Volume 119, No. 9October, 2019

Artist Rights Alliance

Recently, the Department of Justice, the FTC, and the House Judiciary Committee antitrust subcommittee each announced investigations into the leading big tech platforms. To be sure that artists’ concerns are part of this review, the Artist Rights Alliance sent a letter to leaders at each organization detailing the threat dominant tech platforms pose to creators and our communities.

Covering Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, the letter highlights ways in which the platforms’ data collection practices, market domination, safe harbor protections, and other abuses damage the creative ecosystem and make it harder for artists to make a living, connect with fans, and have control over their work.

With new tech controversies emerging almost daily, it’s important to us to shine a light on the ways artists are uniquely impacted by big tech’s abuses.

In an increasingly digital world, artists are forced to rely more and more on these platforms to reach their fans and make their music accessible. But the platforms are well aware of how artists rely on them and take full advantage. YouTube payouts are astonishingly small, yet creators are left with little choice when the alternative is to not put your work on the largest streaming platform in the world.

And the low pay is made particularly insulting when Google refuses to make its Content ID technology available to all creators in an evenhanded way to keep unlicensed music and video off its platforms. All the while, Google profits off of ads on artists’ licensed work and ads on unlicensed postings as well.

On Facebook, fans join to follow bands and artists, but creators have no access to the copious amounts of data Facebook collects as a result – and even charges us to “promote” our own work to our communities and supporters. Twitter has become a hotbed of pirated material, taking no meaningful action itself to control the problem and actually charging creators unreasonable fees to access data that would help them protect their own rights. Twitter is one of the fastest growing sources of piracy links and files.

The sheer mass of data that companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google have collected on their users is unnerving and is the foundation of their monopoly operations in the tech space. That built-in data advantage makes it impossible for artists to gain leverage and time and time again creators are forced to accept pitiful pay and see their art used without real consent because the alternative is no pay at all.

“We actively embrace digital listening and distribution and will continue to work with new services and platforms to give fans the best ways to find and listen to music,” our letter reads. “We want a future in which innovation continues to thrive and fairness for all stakeholders and new competitors flourishes.” But this future isn’t attainable unless tech platforms are held accountable.

We plan to closely monitor the FTC, DOJ, and House investigations and are hopeful they will be as alarmed by the way these platforms have treated artists as we are.

This piece was authored by the board of the Artist Rights Alliance: Rosanne Cash, Tommy Manzi, John McCrea, Tift Merritt, Matthew Montfort, Maggie Vail, and Executive Director Ted Kalo. Read their letter at

To join the Local 802 Artist Rights Caucus, send an e-mail to To join the Local 802 Indie Musicians Caucus, send an e-mail to Meetings are posted at