Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

How Much Copyright Infringement Can You Cram Into a Single Tweet?

If you run a user-generated content site, takedown notices from copyright holders are a fact of life. That even goes for Twitter, where messages are limited to 140 characters of text. Even though a single tweet can hardly contain more than a few sentences, and Twitter still does not host its users’ rich media, the site received on the order of 300 takedown notices in the last month.

In late November, Twitter started contributing its DMCA takedown letters to Chilling Effects, the online clearinghouse jointly organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and many universities and law schools.

Chilling Effects says it received records of 11,500 total takedown notices in 2010, as of Dec. 15. Major contributors include Google, Yahoo and Digg.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick flagged the Twitter takedowns, noting that many of them are for tweets that contain links to copyrighted material. Why go to Twitter and not the content host itself? he asks.

Chilling Effects founder Wendy Seltzer said she believes Twitter has been getting the takedown notices for a while but only recently started submitting them for public posting.

Using Twitter to get out the word about content may well be a growing phenomenon. In August, BitTorrent released a tool for more easily tweeting about torrent files. A friend of mine who’s an avid Green Bay Packers fan recently told me about a Twitter account he follows to find streams of football games he doesn’t have access to on TV.

“It’s interesting that they are receiving takedowns, given that most of what they’re hosting is little 140-character bursts of expression,” Seltzer said on a phone call yesterday. “Copyright holders are pushing the complaint out further, not going after the user who hosted, or even the user who pointed, but going after Twitter because it’s made itself a central location for the collection of information.”

Seltzer said that under the U.S. Supreme Court Grokster ruling, it’s possible that users could end up on the wrong side of the law for inducing infringement by posting a link with the intent to encourage their Twitter followers to access or download infringing material. But as long as Twitter complies with takedown requests, it should be within the safe harbor rules of the DMCA, which protect providers of information tools, said Seltzer. “Twitter doesn’t have an intent to infringe, so they would have a solid argument.”

A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment, citing mellowness in the office over the holidays.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik