In May 2022, Elon Musk declared overzealous use of the DMCA a “plague on humanity.”
As CEO of Twitter, Musk understands that his platform has certain obligations if it wishes to maintain protection from liability under copyright law. On receipt of a properly formatted and submitted takedown notice, allegedly infringing content must be taken down.
A dispute that boiled over yesterday began with these two steps but ended up with the copyright holder having his account suspended, presumably by Musk himself or on his instructions.
The two people at the heart of the original dispute are both Twitter users. Since most tweets relating to the initial dispute have since been deleted or disabled, here we rely on archived and cached copies for evidence. Since one user’s account has been suspended, links to the account and its tweets are included but are likely to fail.
Adrien Mauduit (@NightLights_AM)
Adrien Mauduit (@NightLights_AM, Norway) operates the currently-suspended Night Lights account. He describes himself as a professional nature cinematographer, astrophotographer, and an “Aurora chasing specialist.”
A review of Mauduit’s recent posts suggests that his Twitter account is mainly used to post content he creates himself, usually videos or photographs.
Mauduit’s pinned tweet is/was a stunning short video dated March 4, 2023. It’s described as a “double solar storm punch that created a G3 (max) geomagnetic storm.” This video sits at the heart of the dispute.
Posted on March 3, the video was well received. Comments under the original tweet include: “INCREDIBLE! Feast for the eyes and spirit,” “This one is off the charts!” and “Wow Adrien! Absolutely killing it! Thanks for sharing!”
Massimo (Italy) operates the @Rainmaker1973 account. He describes himself as an engineer who uses his account to “build the big picture of #science via selected & curated pics, videos & links.”
A review of Massimo’s recent posts suggests that his Twitter account is mainly used to post content created by third parties. The usual format is the inclusion of a photograph or image, a description of the image, a hyperlink to the original source, and sometimes a link to a secondary source with additional information on the current topic.
Dispute Between Mauduit and Massimo
On March 6, Massimo posted the now-deleted tweet seen below. The format detailed above is maintained; a description of the third-party content (this time owned by Mauduit), the content itself (the clip) and two links – one linking to Mauduit’s original tweet (here) and another linking to a secondary information source (here).
Massimo also cited the source of the clip: “This beautiful display was filmed by @NightLights_AM on Feb 26th in Swedish Lapland.”
According to a now-deleted tweet published by Massimo, this is what happened next.
Mauduit Filed DMCA Notice to Have Massimo’s tweet Removed
“Yesterday I posted this tweet, tagging the author @NightLights_AM and embedding his clip, without uploading anything,” Massimo’s tweet begins.
“He sent a DMCA report which blocked my account: this means I’m on the brink of the permanent suspension. I contacted him and he asked for money.”
Massimo claims that Mauduit had yet “to set the price” but said he would let Massimo know when he’d decided. Copies of these communications have not been made public, so their nature remains unknown. Whether this was a simple request for cash or a business discussion about the cost of licensing the video is unknown.
“I run this account since 2014 without earning any money from it for pure educational purposes. On the other hand he has a business. He was also a follower of mine, until yesterday. But he said ‘I’m the one who breaks Twitter’s rule’,” he continues.
Massimo Alleges Blackmail
According to Massimo, such requests for payment are not uncommon on Twitter. To keep his account open he has paid off multiple ‘blackmailers’ over the years, he says.
“I’ve been blackmailed like this so many times, and I honestly thought this was over,” he reveals.
“I was hit by DMCA tens of times since 2014 and I was suspended once for 3 weeks. I paid more than $1,500 to keep this account open, I’ve paid all those have blackmailed me. I’ve been blocked in error several times and I’m struggling going on like this.”
Massimo then reveals that he received a cash demand from another alleged rightsholder in late 2022.
“I may pay for keeping this account open, but I had another DMCA on Dec 30: it was a virtually resolved case as the author said he would send a retraction, but the case was never formally resolved after more than 2 months,” he says.
“This is not stability, this is not peace of mind for me. This account helped me a lot, I’m still in hospital for a severe post-transplant complication and this is really hurting me.”
After writing in hope that “a solution can be found”, an unexpected third-party suddenly chimed in.
Elon Musk – Weaponization of DMCA Won’t Be Tolerated
In a tweet posted last evening, Musk warned that anyone found to be repeat abusers of the DMCA takedown system faces being sanctioned by Twitter.
“Accounts engaging in repeated, egregious weaponization of DMCA on Twitter or encouraging weaponization of DMCA will receive temporary suspensions. That said, reasonable media takedown requests are, of course, appropriate and will always be supported,” the Twitter CEO wrote.
Whether it happened before or after the publication of this tweet, Mauduit’s account was suspended.
While there was no mention of any review of the evidence before Mauduit’s account was suspended, Musk went on to mention one of Twitter’s priorities.
Enable Monetization By Content Creators
“It is a major priority to enable monetization by content creators!” Musk declared in a follow-up tweet.
“People need to make a living and prosper from their work. We need to make it possible to upload the content in the first place. That’s getting there.”
Under the circumstances, there appears to be a disconnect here. If people need to make a living from their work, and it’s important to enable copyright holders to upload their original works, that was achieved when Mauduit uploaded his own content. Massimo’s references this himself.
“I run this account since 2014 without earning any money from it for pure educational purposes. On the other hand [Mauduit] has a business,” he wrote yesterday.
Since the original content and the reformatted presentation are both unavailable to view live, that should be taken into consideration. However, it may be relevant to look at how this business proposition is playing out for Mauduit (original content creator) and Massimo (no-profit hobby account).
Content Creator v Content Curator
Massimo admittedly makes no money but has a million followers on his account. Mauduit’s account has 40,100 followers and reportedly generates revenue, but how much is completely unknown.
Until Mauduit’s account is reinstated only one side of the story is being heard. The details of his correspondence with Massimo seem particularly relevant; one man’s ‘blackmail’ could be another man’s licensing terms, we just don’t know.
There is already fierce debate relating to any fair use protections Massimo may have, or may not have, according to opinion. That debate will rage on but we did notice something peculiar.
When Mauduit published the original video (image above) the running time was listed as 1 minute 26 seconds. When it appeared on Massimo’s channel, the clip had shrunk to 1 minute 18 seconds. Massimo insists he “embedded” the original video but this discrepancy may suggest the copies are different, possibly due to copying or transcoding.
In any event, the outcome is that an original uploader of unique content has been suspended. That in itself is likely to prove controversial. Some are wondering why Massimo chooses to republish another Twitter user’s original content when retweeting the source could’ve avoided this entire controversy.
And then there’s the revelation that a hobbyist Twitter user has paid off alleged copyright holders multiple times just to keep his account open. That raises the question of how deep this goes and how many people are paying others off.
In this case a genuine rightsholder appears to have requested payment, but the opportunity for scammers to exploit other users must be enormous.
Update: Mauduit informs TorrentFreak that after sending the DMCA notice to Twitter, Massimo initiated contact and suggested that he should pay an amount to have the report retracted “since the situation for him was so dire.”
Mauduit says that since the offer came from Massimo, that doesn’t constitute blackmail. A few hours later Massimo accused Mauduit of blackmail on Twitter, Mauduit says.
“I asked him to compensate me fairly for the use of the material. So at that point, that was purely business related and politically correct,” Mauduit says.
TorrentFreak requested copies of this correspondence for verification but Mauduit says that since that has implications under privacy law, he’ll remain cautious for now.
Update2: Mauduit’s suspension has been lifted