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Twitter Is Turning a Blind Eye to Music Copyright Infringement, Group of U.S. Reps Says

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UPDATED: Twitter is in the crosshairs of the music industry and nearly two dozen U.S. lawmakers over the issue of music copyright infringement.

A bipartisan group of 22 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter Monday to Twitter chief Jack Dorsey, demanding the social network address “the ongoing problem of copyright infringement on Twitter and the platform’s apparent refusal to address it.” They requested a response to their inquiry by Aug. 27.

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“Creative content drives engagement on Twitter, yet unlike numerous other platforms, Twitter has not acquired licenses necessary to ensure that all creators are properly compensated for use of their works,” the members wrote in the letter. “Given the pervasiveness of this issue, we would like to have a better understanding of how Twitter intends to effectively address these concerns.”

The congressional delegation was let by Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). The lawmakers pointed out that in the first half of 2020, Twitter reported receiving 1.6 million takedown notices for copyright infringement. “Additional infringing content almost certainly goes undiscovered as Twitter has taken the unprecedented step of charging creators for a fully functional search API that can identify instances infringement at scale,” the U.S. representatives said in the letter.

A Twitter rep, who said the company intends to respond to the letter, said in a statement to Variety, “Making Twitter a productive and rewarding place for artists is important to us. We dedicate significant resources to quickly respond to copyright takedown notices and comply with its legal obligations, pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).”

The company added, “We’re committed to providing transparency around the unlawful uses of copyrighted material on our service, and we’ll continue to partner with artists, rights holders and elected officials on these issues.”

The letter to Dorsey was signed by Reps. Armstrong, Jeffries, John Curtis (R-Utah), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Ron Estes (R-Kan.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Greg Pence (R-Ind.), Ben Cline (R-Va.), Billy Long (R-Mo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif.).

Here’s the full text of the letter from the representatives:

Mr. Jack Dorsey
Chief Executive Officer
Twitter, Inc.
1355 Market St #900
San Francisco, CA 94103

Dear Mr. Dorsey:

We write to you regarding the ongoing problem of copyright infringement on Twitter and the platform’s apparent refusal to address it.

Creative content drives engagement on Twitter, yet unlike numerous other platforms, Twitter has not acquired licenses necessary to ensure that all creators are properly compensated for use of their works. Twitter claims it is not a primary destination for sharing music; however, musicians comprise many of the most-followed accounts on the platform. The problem of infringement is well-documented. For example, in the first half of last year alone, Twitter itself reported receiving notices identifying 1.6 million infringements.

Additional infringing content almost certainly goes undiscovered as Twitter has taken the unprecedented step of charging creators for a fully functional search API that can identify instances infringement at scale. To be clear, the standard API Twitter offers free of charge is of such limited functionality that it cannot provide meaningful results at the scale of infringement occurring on the platform. While Twitter offers a more sophisticated API to academic researchers for free, it denies these tools to creators whose infringed works help generate revenue for the company. Between refusing to pay creators for their works and obstructing their discovery of infringing works, it appears that unauthorized use of copyrighted works is an unacknowledged part of Twitter’s business model.

The addition of Twitter’s Tip Jar feature, which permits users to send electronic payments to posters, demonstrates a lack of understanding and respect for the rights holders involved in the content posted on Twitter. A more targeted measure that would indeed help its users benefit from their creativity, would be for the company to pay to license the content on its platform. Not only would this improve user experience by granting lawful access to copyrighted works, but it would also ensure that rights holders are properly compensated for their contribution to the content.

Entering into licensing agreements would thus avoid the status quo in which creators rely on crowd-funded donations while Twitter continues to profit from infringement of their works.

Given the pervasiveness of this issue, we would like to have a better understanding of how Twitter intends to effectively address these concerns. Specifically:

1. What will Twitter do to enable content owners to meaningfully search for and identify infringement of their works at a scale commensurate with the amount of infringing tweets occurring on the platform at no additional cost to them?

2. Tweets can be uploaded in a fraction of a second, and hundreds of millions are posted to Twitter every day. What is Twitter doing to ensure that takedown notices are addressed in a manner that corresponds with that speed and volume?

3. Will Twitter add robust content protection technology across all of its platforms and implement it effectively to decrease the posting and reposting of infringing content?

We appreciate your continued attention to our concerns and look forward to your responses to these questions by August 27, 2021.

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