We’ve had many long discussions here, and have replicated those discussions through more official channels, as to how there are severe problems with the DMCA when it comes to its collision with free speech. One of the core issues is the way the DMCA sets up a system in which service providers feel forced to proactively take down the speech of others based on accusation in the form of a DMCA notice, rather than this working the way it does in nearly every other aspect of American law in which an accusation does not result in a penalty. And penalty truly is the right word, as the American system recognizes that speech is among the most fundamental of freedoms. And, yet, when service providers like Twitter get sent DMCA notices over copyright claims, they are heavily incentivized to take down the content and take action against the account holder — or face potentially massive liability.
Such as the Twitter account for the Houston Rockets, which found itself suspended over a series of DMCA notices for old tweets that apparently contained some unlicensed music. The Rockets also weren’t alone.
On Monday, the Houston Rockets Twitter account found itself among a handful of official sports team accounts, most of which were college team Twitters. The accounts were temporarily shut down due to DMCA complaints against them for the use of copyrighted music without obtaining those rights. The Rockets were joined by Auburn football, Rutgers football, Iowa State football, and Iowa football and gymnastics as prominent official accounts to be shut down either this weekend or on Monday.
“Our Twitter account has been temporarily suspended due to a few prior social media posts with copyrighted music,” the Rockets said in a statement. “We are working to correct the issue now.”
To my immense frustration, nobody appears to have any details as to what the tweets in question were, what music they contained, or who issued the DMCA notices. That is, frankly, fairly strange. It’s also worth noting that the Rockets at one point had something of a rogue managing their Twitter account, and even fired that individual for behavior unrelated to copyright.
Still, it’s instructive to witness what happened here. Twitter gets DMCA notices claiming infringement on the part of a rather marquis account for the Houston Rockets, does whatever review of the tweets in question it does, and then shuts down the account, ostensibly over the volume of tweets contained in the DMCA notice. In case it isn’t obvious: that’s crazy. Think of all the speech that got shut down that wasn’t infringing when that occurred. And, yes, you might not be terribly concerned with the speech emanating from the account of an NBA team, but its more than 2 million followers did.
And it’s also terribly frustrating that this system is set up in a way that shrouds all of this from the public, as though a matter of public speech should be treated like some kind of mystery of national security proportions. The public has an interest in the deletion or suspension of speech, and an interest in the fact that the DMCA is written in a way, and enforced in a way, that not only encourages service providers to take this proactive heavy-handed action, but also leaves those issuing DMCA notices when they shouldn’t without punishment.
Today that was a bunch of sport team accounts. Tomorrow it could be speech you might care about.