Under the DMCA, copyright owners can ask Twitter to remove any material that infringes on copyrighted works. But why was the minister’s account temporarily locked? Did Twitter have any other choice?
IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday was stopped from posting content on Twitter for an hour because he posted content with a copyrighted song in 2017. Now, the organisation that filed the copyright notice which eventually led to Prasad’s brief deplatforming, has defended the notice, saying that Twitter users don’t have the rights to post Sony Music content without a license, the Economic Times reported. We have reached out to Twitter for comment.
The tweet his account was locked for was reported by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry on behalf of Sony Music Entertainment, the latter being one of the three big music labels. Strangely enough, Prasad’s tweet, which used the 1997 AR Rahman song Maa Tujhe Salaam, was the only one cited by the copyright infringement notice filed by the IFPI under the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 2000. It was sent by the IFPI on May 24, a month before Twitter acted on the notice, according to a copy of the notice that MediaNama found and accessed on the Lumen Database, where the social media platform discloses copyright and government takedown requests.
Why an Indian minister’s tweet was taken down by a US law
The DMCA is one of the most common sources of content takedowns on the internet — it enjoys global power due to the United States’ central role in hosting and nurturing the internet economy. But more than that, the DMCA is applicable in India, because India specifically made it so — in 2018, India acceded to two treaties under the aegis of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, an act that was the finishing touch on a series of legislative changes that, when combining parts of the Copyright Act and the IT Act and their subsequent amendments, gave Indian rightsholders DMCA-esque powers as well.
Presumably, since Twitter is an American company, the IFPI flagged Prasad’s use of Maa Tujhe Salaam using that law instead of its Indian equivalent — regardless, though, India’s accession to reciprocal copyright frameworks means that the takedown of Prasad’s tweet is wholly legitimate, not just under the laws of the US, but also those of India. Prasad hasn’t disputed that he didn’t have the rights to use a copyrighted song in a tweet, and Sony doesn’t appear to have a site-wide deal to grant Twitter users the right to post their songs directly in videos.
As for the restricting of Prasad’s account, that’s a whole other story.
What were Twitter’s alternatives to locking Prasad out?
There’s no law that requires Twitter to lock people’s accounts for a specific period of time after they infringe on copyright. That’s entirely on Twitter and platforms like it; repeat offenders can usually be banned to save companies from the trouble of having to deal with more such copyright notices from any given user. But the IT Rules, which were framed to regulate this very intermediary liability, explicitly require — as Prasad pointed out — that platforms give users advance notice and right of appeal against such decisions.
On top of that, as a private company, Twitter has broad freedoms on how to enforce such discretionary account suspensions or restrictions. Even in the midst of a high-profile conflict with the very IT Ministry whose head’s account it just restricted, the company did not leverage its discretion to keep relations from worsening. And that, over a month-old copyright notice for a song from over two decades ago.
The policy alternatives are clear: Twitter has a clear-cut policy for exempting public officials like Prasad from the kind of reprisals that normal users would suffer. While this public-interest exception policy for elected officials doesn’t apply to copyrighted content — which Twitter is required to remove — the company could have just… not locked his account. And yet, it did.
What would you have done? Let us know in the comments section.
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