Music publishers sue Twitter for $250m+ alleging ‘rampant infringement of copyrighted music’

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Twitter has been hit with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit in the state of Tennessee alleging “rampant infringement of copyrighted music” on its platform.

The 17 entities behind the litigation include prominent independent music publishers, as well as Sony Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group and Warner Chappell Music.

Their complaint seeks over $250 million in damages for “hundreds of thousands” of alleged infringements of approximately 1,700 works.

In the complaint, obtained by MBW, the publishers argue that, “Twitter fuels its business with countless infringing copies of musical compositions, violating Publishers’ and others’ exclusive rights under copyright law”.

The suit adds: “While numerous Twitter competitors respect the need for proper licenses and agreements for the use of musical compositions on their platforms, Twitter does not, and instead breeds massive copyright infringement that harms music creators.”

The lawsuit names Elon Musk’s X Corp, the company that owns and operates the Twitter platform, as the only defendant.

The full list of companies suing Twitter, all named as plaintiffs, include Concord, Universal Music Publishing Group, peermusic, ABKCO Music, Anthem Entertainment, Big Machine Music, BMG Rights Management, Hipgnosis Songs Group, Kobalt Music Publishing America, Mayimba Music, Reservoir Media Management, Sony Music Publishing, Spirit Music Group, The Royalty Network, Ultra Music Publishing, Warner Chappell Music, and Wixen Music Publishing.

Commenting on the lawsuit in a statement on Wednesday (June 14), David Israelite, CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), which represents the interests of major and independent publishers in the US, said: “Twitter stands alone as the largest social media platform that has completely refused to license the millions of songs on its service.

He added: “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 DMCA and refuse to pay songwriters and music publishers.”

“Twitter stands alone as the largest social media platform that has completely refused to license the millions of songs on its service.”

David Israelite, NMPA

Twitter, unlike rivals like FacebookInstagram and TikTok, does not have licensing deals in place with major music companies. Twitter’s lack of music agreements with rightsholders has long been a matter of contention, and the platform is regularly criticized for turning a blind eye to infringement.

In February last year, global recorded music body IFPI branded Twitter as “a significant concern to the music industry”.

“Twitter stores and gives the public access to a large amount of copyright-protected content and is a major platform for distributing infringing music content, both audio and video,” the IFPI said in its submission to the EU Counterfeit and Piracy Watchlist Consultation at the time.

In 2021, a bipartisan group of over US lawmakers sent a letter to then-CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, demanding the social media platform address its lack of music licenses.

In December 2020, the RIAA suggested during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property hearing that infringement on Twitter equates to “piracy on an industrial massive scale”.

Twitter reportedly considered licensing music rights from the three major record companies prior to Elon Musk’s takeover, but, according to a report from The New York Times in March, those talks “stalled” after Musk acquired the platform.

“Twitter’s internal affairs regarding matters pertinent to this case are in disarray.”

(From lawsuit)

Most recently, according to the legal complaint filed by music publishers this week, Twitter, which was purchased by Elon Musk for $44 billion last year, “is rife with copyright infringement”.

The complaint adds that “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”.

It continues: “Twitter’s change in ownership in October 2022 has not led to improvements in how it acts with respect to copyright. On the contrary, Twitter’s internal affairs regarding matters pertinent to this case are in disarray”.

The filing, which you can read in full here, argues that the alleged, “pervasive infringing activity at issue in this case is no accident” and that while Twitter began its life as a short text-based messaging platform, “it widened its business model to compete more aggressively with other social media sites for users, advertisers, and subscribers”.

“By design, the Twitter platform became a hot destination for multimedia content, with music-infused video being of particular and paramount importance.”

It points to the fact that rival social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube Shorts and Snapchat have entered into licensing deals with publishers.

“There is a vibrant existing market for social media companies to pay fees for the use of musical compositions,” the filing states.

“Twitter profits handsomely from this infringement of Publishers’ repertoires of musical compositions.”

(From lawsuit)

It adds: “Twitter knows perfectly well that neither it nor users of the Twitter platform have secured licenses for the rampant use of music being made on its platform as complained of herein. Nonetheless, in connection with its highly interactive platform, Twitter consistently and knowingly hosts and streams infringing copies of musical compositions, including ones uploaded by or streamed to Tennessee residents and including specific infringing material that Twitter knows is infringing.  Twitter also routinely continues to provide specific known repeat infringers with use of the Twitter platform as they continue to infringe.

“Twitter profits handsomely from this infringement of Publishers’ repertoires of musical compositions. The audio and audio-visual recordings embodying those compositions attract and retain users (both account holders and visitors) and drive engagement, thereby furthering Twitter’s lucrative advertising business and other revenue streams.

It also adds: “Twitter refuses to stop the rampant infringement of copyrighted music, including Publishers’ musical compositions, because it knows that the Twitter platform is more popular and profitable with such infringement.”

Digging deeper into the complaint against Twitter, we learn that the NMPA, acting on behalf of music publishers, started sending infringement notices to Twitter, “on a weekly basis” beginning in December 2021.

Since then, according to the legal filing, those NMPA Notices have already notified Twitter of “over 300,000 infringing tweets, in the aggregate”.

The filing adds that “each NMPA Notice has contained thousands of links to specific tweets that include unauthorized copies of Publishers’ musical compositions”.

The allegedly infringing material identified by the NMPA on those Notices “generally consisted of copies of the official artist music videos, videos with recordings of live performances, and/or other video content that was synchronized to Publishers’ musical compositions”.

The complaint continues: “The infringing tweets listed in the NMPA Notices are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of the overall infringement of Publishers’ copyrighted works on the Twitter platform.

“Moreover, the plaintiffs in this case are not the only copyright holders whose works have been and are being exploited without authorization on Twitter.  Twitter has received hundreds of thousands of notices or more per year from other copyright holders, including from others who hold rights in musical compositions and from those who hold rights in sound recordings.

“Through its receipt of these notices, Twitter knows that there is rampant, unauthorized use of music, including Publishers’ musical compositions, across its platform. And, of course, the infringing content is readily apparent to Twitter as it reviews and maintains its platform.”

Publishers are seeking up to $150,000 for each work infringed.Music Business Worldwide

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