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THE PUBLISHERS VS. TWITTER: A MUSK-READ STORY

As you've undoubtedly heard, the National Music Publishers Association (on behalf of 17 pubco plaintiffs) has filed suit against Twitter for its repeated copyright infringement and failure to respond to take-down requests.

Thousands of songs have been shared on the social-media platform without permission, often repeatedly, the suit alleges. The plaintiffs are seeking $250m in damages.

But while current Twitter owner Elon Musk has given the lawsuit greater visibility in the news media, one publishing-company exec points out, his high-profile antics (and outspoken criticism of modern copyright law) shouldn’t be overstated. All the big social-media players have resisted licensing music, the exec notes. Those other socials were guided to reason by music-company litigation. Twitter is the last holdout. And things were going so well before Musk selected it as his shiny new toy.

"Twitter stands alone as the largest social-media platform that has completely refused to license the millions of songs on its service,” reads a statement from NMPA boss David Israelite. “Twitter knows full well that music is leaked, launched and streamed by billions of people every day on its platform. No longer can it hide behind the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] and refuse to pay songwriters and music publishers.”

The suit notes that Musk’s decimation of Twitter’s staff, particularly its "trust and safety" team, has made an already bad situation that much worse.

One music attorney we consulted believes that resolution of the present case will turn on the question of whether Twitter still enjoys the storied “safe harbor” protection of the DMCA. Passed in 1998, the legislation shields internet companies from liability for user infringement and other misbehavior on the grounds that companies are merely providing a conduit or “pipe” for those users.

That protection comes with an obligation to (a) honor take-down notices by copyright owners and (b) deal with repeat infringers in a meaningful way.

But, the attorney speculates, if Twitter is not merely a passive platform but one that leverages the availability of unlicensed copyrighted material as part of its business model, it's not merely a pipe; it is, in effect, an accomplice.

Will Twitter lose its safe-harbor protection as a result of this legal action? Will discovery in this case expose other violations by the social giant? Will Musk stop posting right-wing memes long enough to take the implications of the case seriously? A little birdie tells us there’s a lot more action to come.

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