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News / Ioná Corrêa / 16 Jun 2023

Twitter in the Legal Spotlight: Music Publishers Sue the Platform in a $250 Million Lawsuit

4 minute read

Twitter faces a $250 million lawsuit from music publishers, including Sony, Universal, and Warner Chappell, for alleged copyright infringement.

The National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) is suing Twitter over copyright infringement on behalf of 17 different music publishers, including some of the industry’s biggest names, such as Sony Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Concord, BMG Rights Management and Hipgnosis Song Group. The plaintiffs are seeking over $250 million in damages. 

The parties are accusing Twitter of willful copyright infringement on close to 1,700 musical works, stating that it “fuels its business with countless infringing copies of musical compositions, violating Publishers’ and others’ exclusive rights under copyright law.” The social media platform’s alleged permissiveness lets users post, share and stream copyrighted music content without rewarding the appropriate rights-owners for the usage of their work. 

If we take a look around, we will see that all the biggest social media platforms have taken measures to avoid this issue by striking licensing deals with the music publishers. This allows their users to legally share and use copyrighted works. The NMPA, however, is claiming that Twitter has allowed copyrighted music to stay on their platform unlicensed for years.

The lawsuit also brings forward Twitter’s current owner, chairman and CTO, Elon Musk, and some of his own tweets, particularly his statements regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This act is the section of the United States’ copyright law that deals specifically with digital copyright issues and, amongst other things, provides tools for copyright holders and digital platform users to communicate infringement of copyrighted material. It also grants a safe harbour if users or platforms oblige by taking down notified content within a certain period of time.

One of the flagged tweets from Musk’s account in the lawsuit reads “current copyright law in general goes absurdly far beyond protecting the original creator”, to which he continued on the same thread: “overzealous DMCA is a plague on humanity”. The lawsuit argues that statements like these from the “most senior executive” on Twitter exert pressure on the platform’s employees, specially on the trust and safety teams, in issues regarding copyright and infringement. 

So far Twitter’s CEO, Linda Yaccarino, has not made a statement.

Expectations VS Reality

Copyright infringement and the proper compensation of rights-holders has been an ongoing issue when it comes to Twitter. The previous administration, led by former CEO Jack Dorsey, did very little to reward creators, as well as to comply with the platform’s legal obligations when it came to the subject. In the first half of 2020, Twitter received 1.6 million copyright infringement notices, with most being left unaddressed. 

Needless to say, when X Corp’s administration over the platform began, hopes were high and most stakeholders expected a change, pressuring the company to address the continuous music copyright infringement problem. One example of this was when Utopia’s COO, Roberto Neri, publicly called for a cross-industry effort to push unlicensed companies, such as Twitter, to pay music rights owners back in April 2022. 

Later, in November of that same year, while at the Baron Investment Conference, Musk announced a plan to introduce a content monetisation program to Twitter, in order to reward content creators, users and rights holders for content shared on the platform. He pointed out that Twitter hadn’t, thus far, given users a big enough length limit to post videos, nor had it provided means for creators to monetise their content. “So we’re going to change that rapidly”, Musk stated.

However, no such program has been introduced so far. The NMPA’s legal complaint goes even further and blatantly states that Twitter has been facilitating copyright infringement: “both before and after the sale, Twitter has engaged in, knowingly facilitated, and profited from copyright infringement, at the expense of music creators, to whom Twitter pays nothing”. 

Curiously enough, Twitter had been exploring the licensing of music rights from three major labels before Musk’s takeover of the company, The New York Times reported back in March. 

With the music industry seeking proper compensation for their work, the resolution of this case will undoubtedly shape the future landscape of copyright protection in the online realm. Keep a close eye on the Twitter lawsuit developments, as it holds the potential to redefine the relationship between creators, rights holders, and social media platforms.

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