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Twitter Faces $250M Lawsuit Over Music Copyright Infringement

By Anya Wassenberg on June 26, 2023

Several major music publishers have launched a collective lawsuit against Twitter to the tune of $250M USD.

What’s going on:  In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs, members of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) trade group, allege that the social media giant recently purchased by Elon Musk does not take appropriate steps to stop copyright infringement — what the complaint calls “willful copyright infringement” — nor does it pay to license music rights the way Facebook, Instagram and other platforms do.

Digging deeper: In the complaint filed by Concord, Universal, Sony, EMI and a total of 17 industry giants in the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, the plaintiffs write:

“Twitter knows perfectly well that neither it nor users of the Twitter platform have secured licenses for the rampant use of music being made on its platform as complained of herein. Nonetheless, in connection with its highly interactive platform, Twitter consistently and knowingly hosts and streams infringing copies of musical compositions. […] Twitter also routinely continues to provide specific known repeat infringers with use of the Twitter platform, which they use for more infringement.”

The complaint further alleges that the level of copyright infringement is “no accident”, and notes that “Twitter profits handsomely” from its practices.

Why it matters: Twitter is alone among the major social media platforms in its stance. YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat have all entered into agreements with music publishers and other rights holders’ organizations so that the creators of music used on those platforms are compensated.

In their documentation, the plaintiffs catalogue close to 1,700 infringed works on Twitter and ask for up to $150,000 USD statutory damages for each of the infringed works. The list, however, is only meant to be an illustration of the problem and not an exhaustive one. The plan is to update the list on an ongoing basis as the case proceeds, so presumably, the requested damages will go up as well.

Zoom out:  Back in March, Musk went on the offensive against what he termed “overzealous” rights holders who were “weaponizing” DMCA (the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998).

While the dispute was going on via Tweets, a professional photographer was embroiled in a dispute with a Twitter user who’d posted one of his video’s without permission. The dispute ended with the photographer’s account suspended — not that of the re-poster.

In 2021, when Musk himself was critiqued for altering memes and cutting out the creator’s names, the New York Times reported that he had claimed, “no one should be credited with anything ever.”

Musk claims to be looking out for “content creators”. But what about the creators of the original content — music?

A ruling on the case could have a major impact on how Twitter is used.

It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit unfolds.

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