- Twitter’s legal troubles continue to mount.
- A group of music publishers filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging “massive” copyright infringement.
- With violations of about 1,700 songs up to $150,000 each, the lawsuit could total about $250 million.
Twitter’s legal troubles continue to grow.
The social media giant is facing a new lawsuit filed in federal court in Tennessee on Wednesday. A group of music publishers allege Twitter has allowed “massive” copyright infringements to happen, and claim the company profits from it.
Twitter has faced several lawsuits in recent months over missed payments on rent and a variety of other services, as well as unsuccessful suits from employees who were laid off or quit early in Musk’s tenure owning the platform. The San Francisco-based company is also facing investigations from local officials. However, the music copyright suit only partially relates to Musk’s ownership, and has been years in the making.
The suit from a group of 17 music publishers, all members of the National Music Publishers’ Association, alleges Twitter has operated for years as the only major social media platform that does not pay licensing fees to music labels to have their copyrighted music on their platform. Companies like YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok all have licensing deals that pay the music industry millions of dollars a year, according to the suit.
Twitter was reportedly in discussions to finally agree to a licensing deal last year with Universal, Sony, and Warner, the three largest music publishers in the US, which are all included in the lawsuit, according to The New York Times. The Times reported in March that the company started negotiations with the music labels in the fall of 2021, but the talks reportedly stalled once Musk took over in November 2022 and began to cut thousands of employees from the company, some of which were responsible for the negotiations.
The suit quotes Musk multiple times, including a screenshot of a pair of May 2022 tweets in which he said that copyright law “goes absurdly far beyond protecting the original creator.” It also appears to quote another tweet of Musk’s, when he suggested a Twitter user put some of her tweets behind the site’s “subscription tweets” paywall because of how often she was getting copyright complaints against videos she shared.
About 1,700 songs are included in a list filed by the labels that have allegedly been posted on Twitter, violating copyright law because the labels weren’t compensated for their distribution. At a maximum penalty of $150,000 for each violation, that initial list of songs could total over $250 million if the lawsuit is successful.
The NMPA claims in the suit it has reported a total of over 300,000 tweets to Twitter since December 2021, and on thousands of occasions Twitter has taken months or over a year to decide whether it would remove a tweet.
Considering tweets with popular music or videos could spread among a massive group of users, the suit argues, not removing copyrighted content quickly could benefit Twitter because keeping it on the platform can increase engagement. The increased engagement could allow Twitter to command more advertising revenue, its primary way of making money, the suit claims.
For example, the complaint includes a screenshot of a user celebrating the anniversary of the release of Rihanna’s 2007 hit “Umbrella” by posting part of the music video, which includes the copyrighted audio of the song. The tweet had thousands of likes and retweets, and about 221,000 views at the time it was captured for the suit.
Citing archived versions of Twitter’s own rules website, the suit claims the company removed the threat of banning accounts for multiple copyright violations around August 2018, and now simply temporarily suspends repeat violators.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment, as it changed its policy on interacting with the press earlier this year.
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