Music bosses go after Twitter's unlicensed soundtrack to the tune of $250M
Just what the Muskified platform needs right now – another lawsuit
Twitter is "fuelling its business" with "countless infringing copies of musical compositions," according to a lawsuit filed in Tennessee by a long list of music publishers who cite nearly 2,000 tracks ranging from the Seinfeld theme tune to the The Weeknd's "Save Your Tears".
The publishers say [PDF] the "pervasive infringing activity" is "no accident," claiming X Corp, aka Twitter, "has repeatedly failed to take the most basic step" of swiftly removing access to the infringing music. The $250 million suit claims the platform is "rife with copyright infringement" and was so both before and after its sale to Elon Musk for $44 billion.
The suit complains that Twitter has "also continued to assist known repeat infringers with their infringement. Those repeat offenders do not face a realistic threat of Twitter terminating their accounts and thus the cycle of infringement continues across the Twitter platform."
At the heart of the lawsuit is the fact that Twitter has no licensing agreement in place with any of the artists or their reps – unlike YouTube or TikTok. The lawsuit claims that X Corp thus profits from "copyright infringement, at the expense of music creators, to whom Twitter pays nothing," and that the engagement with the music clips is helping the company drive up its own advertising sales, Twitter's main source of revenues.
According to the filing:
Audiovisual tweets, and especially ones containing publishers' copyrighted works, attract and retain users to the Twitter platform, drive ad impressions, and advance Twitter's key metrics and economic interests.
They also point out that they have existing licensing contracts with other big tech platforms "with which Twitter competes" including TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and, perhaps the biggest music hoster of the lot, Google's YouTube.
Google wasn't always so copacetic with the music industry. It has faced down various lawsuits over the widespread presence of copyright-infringing music on its YouTube platform. Various critics have said that its business model is predicated on the use of copyright-infringing content, but Google has always maintained that its protection of artists' rights is robust and that it responds to takedown requests swiftly as well as contributing to revenue streams via licensing agreements with music publishers.
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Even Europe's leading court sided with YouTube in this regard during a dispute between the video platform and a German music producer dating back to 2009. After an appeals process that spanned nearly a decade, in 2021, the European Court of Justice found YouTube was not directly liable for copyright infringement on the platform since it had "put in place various technological measures in order to prevent and put an end to copyright infringements on its platform."
Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe stated at the time: "For some, online platforms allow large-scale copyright infringement, from which their operators profit to the detriment of the rightsholders, which justifies imposing on them extensive obligations to monitor the content uploaded to those platforms by users of their platforms. For others, imposing on those operators such obligations to monitor would significantly affect their activity and the rights of those users and would undermine freedom of expression and creativity online."
As for the Twitter case, the publishers want a permanent injunction stopping Twitter from hosting the infringing vids, plus statutory damages for the infringing content (the "non-exhaustive list" of tracks is an interesting read – PDF), legal fees and a jury trial.
We have contacted Twitter for comment and received another poomoji. So mature, Mr Musk. So mature. ®