Facebook is cracking down on livestreamed music performances, and hurting musicians in the process

My rock band recently released a new EP. And since we can't play any concerts because we're in the middle of a global pandemic that's been horribly mismanaged by authorities and killed hundreds of thousands of people, we decided to celebrate the album's release by hosting a Live Listening Party on Instagram, where we'd play the songs, and then talk about the writing/recording process.

I included a link there, but I'm not actually sure if it's going to work for you. Because after the event, I heard from a few friends who weren't able to join, and I got a copyright violation notice from Instagram:

Some people can't view your video because it may contain content owned by [FB Test Page] Rights Manager Music Restrictions.

This was frustrating, not only because I own all the fucking copyright to my own fucking music, but also because of the weird language used in the notice. Maybe they weren't mad that I was playing my own music, and shut me down for some other reason — I don't know, because I have no idea who "[FB Test Page]" is. (Others have had a similar problem.)

Whatever the truth is, that vagary is a central part of the problem. Because days later, Facebook announced new formal plans to crack down on "music listening experiences," beginning October 1. The new regulations include these details:

Use of music for commercial or non-personal purposes in particular is prohibited unless you have obtained appropriate licenses.

You may not use videos on our Products to create a music listening experience

We want you to be able to enjoy videos posted by family and friends. However, if you use videos on our Products to create a music listening experience for yourself or for others, your videos will be blocked and your page, profile or group may be deleted. This includes Live.

Unauthorized content may be removed

If you post content that contains music owned by someone else, your content may be blocked, or may be reviewed by the applicable rights owner and removed if your use of that music is not properly authorized.

You may not be able to post or access videos containing music in every country of the world

We want you to be able to share videos with your family and friends wherever they are, but any music in your video, if it is allowed at all, may not be available in all countries of the world.

While these guidelines aren't necessarily related to my band's Live Listening Party SNAFU, they're still frighteningly Draconian — essentially banning musicians from doing something as innocuous as uploading their own music videos, lest all of the proper licensing channels be cleared first. This might sound like a practical endeavor for someone like, say, Taylor Swift, who has a massive promotional apparatus at her back; for someone like me, who basically breaks even on distribution costs, it adds a huge layer of administrative difficulty. For example: being denied the ability to use a Facebook-owned social media platform to promote your music to listeners without investing hours and hours ensuring that all the legal Ts are dotted.

This is particularly — dare I say, egregiously — insulting and frustrating in this era of social distancing due to a global pandemic, when it's already damn near impossible to make any money from live musical performances. Maybe the Dropkick Murphys can monetize a livestream enough to bring in nearly a million dollars (mostly for charity, but still), I consider myself successful if I can cover one month of mortgage payments each year with income from my music. And Facebook just made that goal even more difficult to obtain for me.

After the initial backlash, Facebook did offer some music video clarity:

We want to encourage musical expression on our platforms while also ensuring that we uphold our agreements with rights holders. These agreements help protect the artists, songwriters, and partners who are the cornerstone of the music community — and we're grateful for how they've enabled the amazing creativity we've seen in this time.

Our partnerships with rights holders have brought people together around music on our platforms. As part of our licensing agreements, there are limitations around the amount of recorded music that can be included in Live broadcasts or videos. While the specifics of our licensing agreements are confidential, today we're sharing some general guidelines to help you plan your videos better:

• Music in stories and traditional live music performances (e.g., filming an artist or band performing live) are permitted.
• The greater the number of full-length recorded tracks in a video, the more likely it may be limited (more below on what we mean by "limited").
• Shorter clips of music are recommended.
• There should always be a visual component to your video; recorded audio should not be the primary purpose of the video.

These guidelines are consistent across live and recorded video on both Facebook and Instagram, and for all types of accounts — i.e. pages, profiles, verified and unverified accounts. And although music is launched on our platforms in more than 90 countries, there are places where it is not yet available. So if your video includes recorded music, it may not be available for use in those locations.

But this still doesn't make me feel much better about it.