A group of 17 music publishers sued Twitter on Wednesday, accusing it of copyright infringement on some 1,700 songs, and seeking up to $250 million in damages, the latest headache for the Elon Musk-owned social media platform.
The publishers filed the lawsuit in Nashville Federal District Court, alleging that Twitter violated copyright law by allowing users to post music to the platform without permission. Negotiations between Twitter and the music industry to establish extensive licensing agreements broke down months ago.
“Twitter is the largest social media platform that has completely refused to license millions of songs on its service,” David Israelite, president of the National Association of Music Publishers, a trade group, said in a statement.
Twitter and Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit details what the publishers say is Twitter’s failure to police rampant copyright infringement of music on the service. It pointed to specific tweets in which music was used without permission, including a post about Rihanna’s song “Umbrella” that included what the lawsuit said was two minutes of the song’s music video. The post had 221,000 views and 15,000 likes, the lawsuit said, but not permission from the song’s publishers.
The lawsuit sought legal damages of up to $150,000 for each of the nearly 1,700 infringed works, totaling about $250 million.
Music publishers represent composition and songwriting copyrights, which are separate from recording copyrights.
The lawsuit also documents attempts by music publishers to notify Twitter of the infringement through the protocol outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 law that protects Internet service providers when users they post copyrighted materials, but outline a set of guidelines on how they can be taken down.
According to the lawsuit, the National Association of Music Publishers notified Twitter about 300,000 tweets containing infringing music since December 2021. The company routinely delayed or failed to act on those notices, according to the lawsuit.
Twitter had been in negotiations for licensing rights with the three major record labels (Universal, Sony and Warner) since 2021, though talks stalled after Musk took over the company for $44 billion in October. Music rights deals, which require social media companies to compensate publishers and record labels when users post or play content containing songs, can cost more than $100 million a year.
Since buying Twitter, Musk has cut costs by laying off workers, skipping rent payments and avoiding paying bills to various vendors. Advertising revenue is down and the company faces billions of dollars in debt payments from the Musk acquisition. Musk has said that Twitter was on the road to bankruptcy.
The lawsuit attempts to use Mr. Musk’s own words against him. He cited a series of his tweets in which he said current copyright law “absurdly goes way beyond protecting the original creator.” He aggregate“Overzealous DMCA is a plague on humanity.”