Twitter blocks IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for 1 hour
Union minister for electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday criticised Twitter after he was locked out of his account on the platform for almost an hour over alleged copyright infringement -- a development that comes amid a dispute between the social media company and the central government over the issue of compliance with new IT rules.
Prasad said that the company denied him access on the grounds that he violated the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The access to the account was subsequently restored.
“It is apparent that my statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers,” he said in a series of posts on Koo, which positions itself as India’s alternative to Twitter.
Prasad added that Twitter’s actions were in gross violation of Rule 4 (8) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, as it failed to provide him any prior notice before denying him access.
Twitter said that as per its copyright policy, it responds to “valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives”. “We can confirm that the Honourable Minister’s account access was temporarily restricted due to a DMCA notice only and the referenced Tweet has been withheld,” a spokesperson for the company said.
According to Twitter’s disclosure of the notice details on Lumen Database, a Harvard University project that collects and analyses legal complaints and requests for removal of online materials, the actioned tweet contained a post by the Union minister with a link to the AR Rehman song “Maa tujhe salaam”.
The contents of the tweet, which was posted in 2017, are no longer available in the public domain.
The social media firm’s action comes at a time when it is at loggerheads with the government over the new social media and intermediary guidelines. The Centre has asserted that the company failed to comply with the guidelines, which can result in it losing the safe harbour protection granted to intermediaries under the IT Act. Twitter, in turn, raised concerns about the safety of its employees in India and flagged intimidation by the police. There have been several run-ins between the social media firm and the government over orders to block access to content and marking of posts by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders as manipulated media.
After Twitter briefly blocked Prasad from accessing, the chairman of the parliamentary panel on information technology, Shashi Tharoor, said the same issue occurred with him and the standing committee will seek an explanation from the social media firm over the temporary locking of their accounts and the rules it follows while operating in India.
Indians creatively make videos using short snippets of foreign music and most people would consider that “fair use”, Tharoor said.
Prasad previously said what happened with his account was very peculiar. “Friends! Something highly peculiar happened today. Twitter denied access to my account for almost an hour on the alleged ground that there was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the USA and subsequently they allowed me to access the account.”
“Twitter’s actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be but are only interested in running their own agenda, with the threat that if you do not tow the line they draw, they will arbitrarily remove you from their platform,” the minister added, saying “no matter what any platform does they will have to abide by the new IT Rules fully and there shall be no compromise”.
Twitter, in its communication to the minister, said that the “account has been locked because Twitter received a compliant Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Notice for content posted to your Twitter account”. “Under the DMCA copyright owners can notify Twitter claiming that a user has infringed their copyrighted works. Upon receipt of a valid notice, Twitter will remove the identified material. Twitter maintains a repeat copyright infringer policy under repeat infringer accounts will be suspended. Accruing multiple DMCA strikes may lead to suspension of your account,” the company said in a communication sent to Prasad, according to his post on Koo.
The minister said that in the past several years, “no television channel or any anchor has made any complaints about copyright infringements with regard to these news clips of my interviews shared on social media”.
According to Raman Chima, Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now, because Twitter is ultimately operated as a service by Twitter Inc, the DMCA applies to it internationally. “That is how Twitter is structured,” he said.
He added that it was ironic that the minister was complaining about a regime that was too strict in terms of its enforcement. “The problem with creating a broad order of takedown regimes is that such situations will arise. It is ironic that the minister is complaining about a regime that is too strict when the government is trying to create a similar situation in India with the new IT rules.”