The US Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property is looking for better ways to tackle the ever-present threat of online piracy.
Specifically, it’s working with various stakeholders to see if the DMCA can be improved to better suit today’s online environment.
Improving the DMCA
The effort was announced by Senator Thom Tillis last year, who organized several hearings on the matter in recent months. The Subcommittee invited roughly 50 witnesses to share their views. This included copyright industry representatives, legal scholars, as well as digital rights experts.
The lawmakers questioned these experts on several possible solutions, including site blocking. Next month these hearings will come to an end. The last topic of discussion is ‘voluntary agreements’ and to see what major online services can do, Senator Tillis invited key players including Facebook and Twitter.
These online platforms are familiar with the halls of the US Congress as they are regularly asked to testify. Just last week, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey were questioned on censorship and suppression during the past election.
Twitter Refuses to Testify at Hearing
However, it turns out that Twitter is not planning to make someone available for the upcoming hearing on voluntary anti-piracy initiatives. Despite repeated requests from Tillis’ staff over the past months, the social media platform declined to attend.
This decision came as a massive disappointment to Senator Tillis, who shared his dismay in a letter to Twitter’s CEO.
“I was incredibly disappointed to learn that Twitter has declined my invitation to send a witness to my subcommittee’s December 15 hearing on the role of voluntary agreements and technological measures in addressing copyright piracy online.
“For this final hearing, it is critical that the subcommittee hear about how key online platforms combat piracy via voluntary agreements and technological measures,” Tillis says.
‘Twitter Doesn’t Take the Piracy Problem Seriously’
The senator says that Twitter’s position contrasts that of Facebook, as Mark Zuckerberg promised to make a witness available. This rejection is problematic, he adds, suggesting that the company’s anti-piracy efforts are below par.
“Twitter has been less engaged in working with copyright owners on voluntary measures and technological tools, and now has rebuffed my request to testify. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from your actions is that Twitter simply does not take copyright piracy seriously.”
Instead of sending someone to the hearing, Senator Tillis now requests Twitter’s CEO to answer a series of questions in writing. And if those remain unanswered, he threatens to find another way to compel the social media platform to testify.
Senator Tillis Questions Twitter
The letter makes it clear that the senator is not happy with Twitter’s refusal to attend the hearing. It also suggests that Twitter’s anti-piracy policies are lacking, a sentiment that’s also reflected in the questions being asked.
For example, Twitter is accused of refusing to negotiate licenses or business agreements with record labels and being “slow to respond to copyright infringement”. This stands in contrast to other social media companies that “have done the right thing.”
Senator Tillis adds that Twitter “continues to host and permit rampant infringement of music files on its platform” and that it hasn’t taken any “meaningful steps to address the scale of the problem.”
These are all statements that preface questions about Twitter’s policies and anti-piracy efforts. For example, the company is asked how many DMCA notices it has received, what steps it has taken to address piracy, and whether it is trying to license the music that’s used on the platform.
Tillis also wants to know how Twitter views voluntary agreements and whether it’s engaged in any, how repeat infringers are dealt with, and if it has taken any steps to proactively take down pirated content and to resolve its issues with the RIAA.
The questions also touch on the subject of manual moderation. The letter mentions that Twitter has gone to great lengths to flag, disclaim, and censor content from conservatives and asked whether these same ‘human’ moderators are also used to tackle online piracy.
The language is quite hostile and one doesn’t have to read between the lines to conclude that Twitter hasn’t made itself loved in the halls of Congress, not with Senator Tillis at least.
That sentiment is reflected throughout the questions and comes back at the end as well.
“I hope that you will respond by December 4 and demonstrate to my colleagues and I that you do, in fact, take copyright piracy seriously,” Senator Tillis concludes.
A copy of the full letter, courtesy of MTP, is available here