Facebook and its subsidiaries have music licensing deals. Snapchat has music licensing deals. TikTok has music licensing deals. There may be arguments (especially in the latter’s case currently) about how those deals with social-media platforms should evolve and increase in value, but still: deals.
Twitter? Not so much. Its licensing status has long been a sore point for the music industry, particularly in recent years. In 2019, labels began battering Twitter with takedown notices for music posted by its users, with the aim of forcing it to the negotiation table. The following year, RIAA boss Mitch Glazier accused the service of “piracy on an industrial massive scale”.
In 2021, we saw a group of industry bodies take Twitter to task for becoming “a major player in the distribution and consumption of commercial music, much of it without authorization or any kind of license”. A group of US politicians took up the theme later that year, and then in April 2022 the IFPI described Twitter as “a significant concern to the music industry”.
None of this has yet led to licensing deals of the kind that rightsholders are looking for. Now the music industry is moving on from public pressure to legal action, starting with the traditional trailblazer against unlicensed services: the US-based National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA).
It is suing Twitter for copyright infringement on behalf of 17 of its members, seeking more than $250m in damages for infringements of around 1,700 songs.
“Twitter knows perfectly well that neither it nor users of the Twitter platform have secured licenses for the rampant use of music being made on its platform as complained of herein,” claimed the lawsuit. “Nonetheless, in connection with its highly interactive platform, Twitter consistently and knowingly hosts and streams infringing copies of musical compositions… including specific infringing material that Twitter knows is infringing.”
NMPA lawsuits have tended to end in out-of-court settlements paving the way for deals: from Roblox and Twitch in 2021 and Peloton in 2020 back to Genius (then Rap Genius) and YouTube multi-channel network Fullscreen in 2014. Whenever it sues, it has to be taken seriously.
The question here, though, is whether Twitter’s mercurial owner Elon Musk will take it seriously. His company has yet to comment – “An email to Twitter’s press account requesting comment returned an autoreply with a poop emoji,” noted Variety.
Musk’s overnight tweets have focused instead on saluting the latest invective from far-right broadcaster Tucker Carlson; a sunblock tip for Coconut Crab spotters; and a meme suggesting that he’s thinking about unicorns, UFOs, dinosaurs and sushi. We suggest he adds music licensing to that list sharpish.