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We try reaching out to users before blocking accounts: Twitter

Social media firm Twitter told the parliamentary committee on information and technology that it makes a “good faith” effort to contact users – and it did so for former Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor -- when disabling or restricting access for alleged violation of US copyright laws The firm was responding to letter sent by the panel questioning its decision to briefly lock out Prasad and committee chairperson Tharoor from their accounts under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
By Deeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 10, 2021 12:00 AM IST

Social media firm Twitter told the parliamentary committee on information and technology that it makes a “good faith” effort to contact users – and it did so for former Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor -- when disabling or restricting access for alleged violation of US copyright laws

The firm was responding to letter sent by the panel questioning its decision to briefly lock out Prasad and committee chairperson Tharoor from their accounts under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It defended its actions and said that its decisions were based on terms and conditions that users agree to when they sign up to use the service.

“If we remove or restrict access to user content in response to a copyright complaint, Twitter will make a good faith effort to contact the affected account holder with information concerning the removal or restriction of access, including a full copy of the complaint, along with instructions for filing a counter-notice,” the firm said in its response, people familiar with the matter said.

Twitter on June 25 suspended Prasad’s access to his social media account for nearly an hour over, inviting a rebuke from the minister for being in violation of the new social media and intermediary guidelines.

The decision was based on a copyright takedown under the DMCA that stated the minister posted content that was in violation of guidelines. The tweet, from 2017, contained AR Rehman’s famous song Maa Tujhe Salaam, was withheld by the social media firm, with its contents no longer available in the public domain.

House panel chair Tharoor asked Twitter to explain in writing why it had locked out the former union minister and him. In a written response, Twitter said that the action was in keeping with its policies.

The former minister, who resigned earlier this week, at the time said: “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 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 in which the company allegedly failed to provide Prasad any prior notice before denying him access to his own account.

Twitter has told the Delhi High Court that it will make the necessary appointments within eight weeks, but the Court asked it to complete the process within two weeks.

In its response, Twitter added that as per its copyright policy, Twitter responds to copyright complaints submitted under the DMCA. “Section 512 of the DMCA outlines the statutory requirements necessary for formally reporting copyright infringement, as well as providing instructions on how an affected party can appeal a removal by submitting a compliant counter-notice. Twitter responds to reports of alleged copyright infringement, such as allegations concerning the unauthorized use of a copyrighted image as a profile or header photo, allegations concerning the unauthorized use of a copyrighted video or image uploaded through our media hosting services, or Tweets containing links to allegedly infringing materials,” it said.

“Twitter’s response to copyright complaints may include the removal or restriction of access to allegedly infringing material. The account holder is asked to review and acknowledge an in-app notification that confirms that they have understood Twitter’s copyright policy and once they do so, the account is automatically unlocked,” it added.

The firm said it attempts to be transparent in the enforcement of its policies and marks out withheld tweets, while allowing users to file a counter notice.

“In the case of Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad, Hon’ble Minister of Law & Justice, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology as well Dr Shashi Tharoor, Hon’ble Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology, Twitter received DMCA notices from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) alleging that video Tweets posted on their accounts infringed copyrighted works owned by Sony Music Entertainment. For Mr Prasad, the DMCA notice was in reference to the original work (ie alleged infringement) of AR Rahman’s Maa Tujhe Salaam,” the firm said.

“For Dr Tharoor, the DMCA notice was in reference to the original work (ie alleged infringement) of Boney M –Rasputin. Upon receipt of the notice, Twitter complied with its copyright policy, disabled access to the allegedly infringing videos, and temporarily locked the accounts. When the account holders acknowledged their understanding of our copyright policy, the accounts were immediately unlocked. Twitter sent by email a full copy of the DMCA notices to the account holders.”

It also said that accounts are temporarily locked. “However, we may take retractions and counter-notices into account when applying our repeat infringer policy.

It added that users, when they sign up to use Twitter, agree to post only content to which they “have obtained all rights, licenses, consents, permissions, power and/or authority necessary”.

Twitter also drew the panel’s attention that certain uses of copyrighted material does not require permission, such as political speech, content that is potentially newsworthy, or cases of apparent fair use. “This type of speech is protected under UN-recognised principles of free expression and may not violate Twitter’s Copyright Policy,” the company added.

Experts have previously told HT that the issue relates to Twitter’s headquarters being subjected to American jurisdiction. 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.

“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,” he added.

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