Twitter using copyright strikes to silence users, goes against own terms of service

Twitter has failed in upholding its terms of service, and because of this, many people stand to lose accounts they have had for years.

Twitter has, for reasons unknown, started copyright striking their users on the grounds that they have breached the terms of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) by sending users Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) filing notices. And they have been doing this in record numbers—including hitting major influencer accounts.

But it turns out that Twitter’s bots—designed to detect IFPI infringements—are deficient in distinguishing between fair use and real copyright violations. For example, the automated system cannot tell the difference between parody/commentary and legitimate attempts to profit from copyrighted material. Not only that, but the DMCA can be exploited and worked around in different ways by ill-willed users in order to get targeted accounts permanently banned from the platform.

The usual process involves Twitter’s automated detection infrastructure rifling through millions of tweets, scanning for protected videos that may have been used without the owner’s permission. Any music that the bots pick up may be flagged as a potential copyright infringement, and then, without warning, the video may be removed and the user’s account permanently banned.

IFPI represents 1,300 record companies around the world, and has the responsibility of protecting their client’s material from illegal use and distribution. And it makes sense that artists should have their material protected from illegal activity, but most of the accounts being copyright striked are using material that clearly falls within the bounds of Twitter’s fair use policy.

Twitter has failed in upholding its terms of service, and because of this, many people stand to lose accounts they have had for years.

Ian Miles Cheong is one among many who have been hit with a copyright strike by Twitter’s clunky automated detection infrastructure. In fact, he has been stricken on two separate occasions. One more violation could result in his permanent ban from the platform. And all of this has been done based on material that is well within fair use.

Cheong’s first apparent copyright violation was posting a status that had to do with “Antifa training sessions,” which he removed after being sent an email notifying him that he had violated Twitter’s copyright policy. No more than 12 hours later, after he had removed the post, Twitter locked his account, which he innocently dismissed as “a system delay.”

His second violation essentially followed the same progression of events, but had to do with “@realDonaldTrump Build the wall!”

According to Cheong, the “emails included full details of the DMCA filing notices, which stated that I posted copyrighted music, and included dozens of other Twitter accounts that posted other videos that allegedly breached the IFPA’s copyrights. Despite being signed by a person, it reads like an automatically generated letter and the other accounts that violated the copyrights were all starting with the letter “S.” I can only deduce that there are thousands of these filings.”

The long list that was attached to the bottom of Cheong’s email included links to accounts that started with the letter “S,” which is the first letter of Cheong’s Twitter handle (@stillgray). The suspicion here is that Twitter is, en masse, copyright striking many accounts without a single human employee looking over each account to verify that it has, indeed, violated their terms of service.

Cheong and many have discovered that Twitter has no statute of limitations on the material that could cause an account to be banned. It could have been posted anywhere from one day ago to five or ten years ago. Some have even been banned for posting a video while at a concert that had copyrighted music playing in the background.

Artists have even lost control of digital distribution of their own material on Twitter. Rage Against the Machine recently had to apologize to their fans, tweeting “Sorry for those who have shared or enjoyed the RATM videos...on the RATM Twitter account...but the 'powers that be' decree they don't like it.”

Chad Felix Greene has been copyright striked by posting TikToks on Twitter, using TikTok’s own protected soundbites.

And despite multiple attempts by those who have been striked to get the attention of Twitter, the platform has been completely silent on the matter. It is almost as if the platform is deliberately neglecting to address the issue of their own degenerate method of identifying copyright infringements.

Dave Rubin is another who has been threatened with having his account locked if he is found to be in copyright violation.

There is no evidence to suggest that Rubin was attempting to make money off the song or claim ownership. Everything is clearly within fair use.

As one of the largest social media platforms in the world, one might think Twitter would take more responsibility in upholding their own terms of service. There is no longer the concept of “fair use” when it comes to posting content on the platform with any kind of music playing in the background. It’s not that Twitter executives are being nefarious in any way, but their refusal to reply to user’s complaints about their terrible automated detection infrastructure is very telling.

One easy fix for the social media giant would be to issue some kind of grace period for users who have violated the platform’s terms of service. Allowing each user time to process what happened and give them the opportunity to take the content down without penalty would clear up a lot of this confusion. But it’s also essential that Twitter get human eyeballs on these cases to make sure that their automated detection infrastructure is not hitting anything and everything with a music clip in it.

This is not a problem for the random person with 15 followers. This neglect on the part of the social platform severely impacts accounts with huge numbers of followers that lean on their Twitter content for advertising and communicating with their patrons etc. People’s livelihoods, in many cases, relies on the functionality of the platform upholding their own rules. Plus, it makes the platform less fun for everyone.