By Mike Masnick
After writing about the MPA/RIAA’s ever-shifting targets of who to freak out about regarding copyright infringement, it helps to take each new target with a grain of salt. They were mad about Napster, then LimeWire, then YouTube, then cyberlockers/cloud storage. And now, apparently the target is… random social media sites? There’s been plenty of attention recently over the RIAA turning its attention to… background music in Twitch streams. But who the hell thinks that Twitter is some den of piracy? Apparently, the recording industry does.
Senator Thom Tillis, who is leading a new effort to completely overhaul copyright law is apparently angry that Twitter chose not to send someone to a hearing he’s holding in mid-December.
The letter that Tillis sent to Twitter in response to this decision is way over the top. Unless subpoenaed, appearing before Congress is very much voluntary. People and companies refuse to appear all the time. And even if there was a subpoena, it seems worth noting that it’s Tillis’ party that has decided that ignoring Congressional subpoenas is just fine and dandy.
But, really, the bigger issue here is why is Twitter even a target at all? No one thinks about Twitter as a source for copyright infringing materials. And Twitter has always been known to be responsive to DMCA takedowns. They have a whole section in their transparency report about copyright takedown notices. That certainly shows that Twitter is very responsive to DMCA notices. It does highlight how it has refused to comply with some notices, but those are in cases where it’s clearly abuse of the DMCA for censorship, such as when a bunch of DMCA notices were sent to try to silence critics of the Ecuadorian government.
In fact, if anything, we’ve often seen Twitter be too responsive to questionable DMCA takedown notices, like the time it pulled down a Trump campaign video (remember, Tillis is a big Trump supporter) over a highly questionable copyright claim.
And yet, here’s Tillis trying to make it sound like Twitter is a den of piracy that ignores copyright takedowns.
But Twitter has been less engaged in working with copyright owners on voluntary measures and technological tools, and now has rebuffed my request to testify. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from your actions is that Twitter simply does not take copyright piracy seriously.
Or, maybe, the nature of Twitter (mostly short bursts of text) is not at all conducive to some RIAA supported show trial about piracy. But it’s really in the detailed questions in which Tillis gives away the game. The RIAA wants to force every website that hosts 3rd party content to have to buy a sitewide license. This is what Article 17 was all about in the EU, and Tillis more or less admits it with this question:
I have heard that Twitter has been slow to respond to copyright infringement on its platform and also refused to negotiate licenses or business agreements with music publishers or record labels. In contrast, other major-social media companies have done the right thing and mitigated infringing activity on their platfoms by entering into negotiated license agreements to allow uses of music. Does Twitter seek licenses for the use of music? If so, in what instances? Has Twitter made efforts to negotiate license agreements with music publishers and record labels to ensure songwriters- and artists are compensated?
No one is going to Twitter as a way to get music. If music appears in video snippets on Twitter it’s almost entirely incidental. And Twitter has shown that it’s absolutely responsive to DMCA notices (see the Trump campaign ad takedown mentioned above). This is entirely about the RIAA trying to get the US government to force every website to just write them a big check every year.
Despite the tremendous value that music brings to Twitter’s business, your platform continues to host and permit rampant infringement of music files on its platform
What? No. That’s literally not happening, and music is not providing any significant value to Twitter’s business.
Twitter has not taken meaningful steps to address the scale of the problem.
It clearly has taken steps and is incredibly responsive to DMCA notices (sometimes too responsive).
Instead, your company claims that it already goes above and beyond what the law requires. What steps has Twitter taken to ensure no unlicensed music is made available?
This is such a dumb question. It is literally impossible to “ensure no unlicensed music is made available.” Of course some will always be because of the broken nature of today’s copyright law, nearly everything anyone does involves some form of copying content without a license. In fact, many unlicensed uses of music are legal because of things like fair use or de minimis use. Demanding “no unlicensed music” is not only impossible, it literally is not required by law.
How many takedown notices has Twitter received each year since it launched in 2006?
This is a really bad question as well. This was the key tactic the labels have used against Google/YouTube, using the number of notices received as a proxy for how bad the sites are. But this is a number the labels have control over since they get to send the notices.
There are more questions, but the whole thing is clearly driven by the RIAA’s interests to force Twitter into just writing them a giant check every year. I mean, I guess it worked against YouTube and Facebook (where at least there was some argument to be made that music was a bigger deal), so now they’ve moved on to other sites like Twitch and Twitter. But forcing every website to sign a license is crazy, not required by law, and acting as if the failure to sign a license is some indictment of how Twitter feels about copyright is complete nonsense.