Services such as Napster and LimeWire were effectively destroyed through litigation but more recent problems aren’t easily solvable in the same way. YouTube and Facebook, for example, have very deep pockets and an abundance of lawyers but perhaps more importantly, they also have the potential to become formidable long-term music distribution partners.
A similar case can be made for Twitter but it is becoming increasingly clear that while the music industry would like to partner with the social platform, it’s currently disappointed with Twitter’s attitude towards copyright infringement. Last December, RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier said that while YouTube and Facebook had developed anti-piracy tools, Twitter had done nothing and things needed to change.
It appears that a few months on, little has.
RIAA and NMPA Chiefs Slam Twitter
In an op-ed just published in Billboard, Mitch Glazier and National Music Publishers Association president David Israelite lay into Twitter again, stating that music creators and music fans deserve better from the social networking service. Noting that Twitter can be innovative when it wants to be, Glazier and Israelite say that when it comes to piracy, it’s a whole different game.
“[I]n one important respect Twitter remains ‘old school’ and stubbornly refuses to use even the most basic tools when it comes to combating piracy or helping music creators prevent theft of their works on its platform. Unfortunately, the company’s efforts to innovate only seem to go so far,” they begin.
With the basics out of the way, the pair swiftly turn to Twitter’s business model, implying that without music and music fans, Twitter wouldn’t be where it is today. The authors say that record companies and music publishers want the “partnership” with Twitter to work, even going as far as expressing pride in powering Twitter’s success. But unfortunately, that’s when the pleasantries end.
“[T]he viral immediacy and global reach of the Twitter platform presents a double-edged sword – one that cuts especially deep for artists, songwriters, and music rightsholders who see their work leaked, copied, distributed, and monetized on the platform with almost no recourse,” they write, sounding the alarm.
“Last year music creators sent more than 2 million notices to Twitter of unlicensed and infringing appearances of copyrighted music on the platform – more than 200,000 of which dealt with the especially harmful presence of not yet released stolen songs.”
Twitter’s Response is “Totally Inadequate”
While many platforms have been criticized by the music industry for not doing enough to combat piracy, in Twitter’s case there appears to be more under the hood. Complaining that Twitter can take “days or longer” to respond to a complaint, the industry leaders flat-out accuse Twitter of failing to meet its legal obligations – strong words when that could theoretically form the basis of a lawsuit.
There is no clear suggestion of legal action at this stage but Glazier and Israelite imply that a compromise of sorts could be reached with Twitter. Interestingly the parameters being suggested seem to push Twitter much further than its legal obligations require. For example, in respect of pre-release music leaks, the music bosses want takedowns actioned almost immediately.
“With pre-release leaks, takedowns must come in seconds or minutes, not days,” they write.
Building upon the requirement for a real-time response, the RIAA and NMPA want Twitter to proactively find pirated music on its platform, without first having to be notified that infringement has taken place.
“While Twitter’s response to takedown notices fails to meet its legal obligations, even worse is the company’s refusal to take affirmative steps to more effectively police its own platform and find unlicensed music before it is widely circulated and without waiting for a rightsholder to do the work and notice the infringement for them,” they note.
“No one can see better than Twitter what happens on its system or has the access and technical capacity to address problems at the speed and scale of the network. There is much Twitter could do to address this problem.”
So What Should Twitter Do?
Given that the RIAA and NMPA strongly suggest they would like Twitter to be a partner, it will come as no surprise that they would like Twitter to buy its way out of its current predicament.
“Most fundamentally, [Twitter] could license music and pay creators for the songs and recordings that it distributes. This is what many other services have done and it is the single most important thing the company could do to meet its obligations to artists and songwriters,” the RIAA and NMPA chiefs write.
On the anti-piracy front, the industry bosses would like Twitter to be more like YouTube and Facebook by introducing automated tools and content protection technologies. These should be able to take down unlicensed copies of works before they even appear on Twitter, negating the need for “artists, songwriters, and their representatives to scour the five hundred million tweets that are posted to the platform every day.”
An interesting element of the RIAA and NMPA criticism is that Twitter does have the ability to help right now but will only do so for a price. They accuse the platform of demanding “massive payments” from music creators in return for access to the company’s data flow and with that the ability to spot pirated content.
“Twitter could easily provide an API with sufficient capacity and speed to allow for monitoring at scale, just as it provides to other users like researchers who it hopes will help publicize and vouch for the company’s operations and to third party vendors who sell Twitter analytics. Incredibly, despite many requests it has refused to provide it to music creators without charge,” the groups write.
“Charging music creators for access to the data they need to find infringement of their own work is just another Silicon Valley shakedown – moving fast and breaking music.”
In summary, the RIAA and NMPA are demanding “serious and immediate changes” to Twitter’s response to unlicensed music appearing on the platform. There are currently no indications of what might happen if those changes aren’t delivered as requested.