Rights groups praise change in Twitter takedown policy

Twitter's new policy governing takedowns of tweets allegedly infringing on copyright material is being praised by Internet rights groups.

"This is definitely a good development," says Sherwyn Siy, vice president for legal affairs for Public Knowledge in Washington, D.C.

Under the new policy, Twitter will replace tweets challenged by copyright holders under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) with another tweet notifying its community of the challenge and exhibiting a link that leads to information about how to contest the challenge.

Previously, Twitter "disappeared" the tweet from a member's feed without any explanation.

"It's a more transparent way of doing things," Twitter spokesperson Jim Prosser explained in an interview.

Additionally, Twitter will now forward copies of the DMCA challenges to tweets to the Chilling Effects clearinghouse. In its FAQ, Chilling Effects says it "invites recipients and senders of cease-and-desist notices to send them to a central point (here, at chillingeffects.org) for analysis, and to browse the website for background information and explanation of the laws they are charged with violating or enforcing."

Prosser added that the new system for handling DMCA challenges is also easier to manage for the microblogging site because it no longer has to delete and re-post tweets. "We never delete a tweet," he says. "It's just withheld until we receive a valid counter-response."

Knowing when information has been removed from the Internet and for what reason is important to everyone, according to Public Knowledge's Siy. "That way, the accused posts aren't just tossed down the memory hole," he says.

"The liability structure of the DMCA is such that providers like Twitter are incentivized to take down accused content quickly, and they don't have a lot of incentive to make evaluations for themselves as to whether or not the takedown requests are legitimate," Siy says.

"A lot of times they're not," he adds. "People sometimes send take-down requests for things they simply don't want others to see, even if such bogus requests violate the law."

Limiting abuses

Having a process in place benefits all concerned, according to Craig Spiezle, executive director of the Online Trust Alliance based in Bellevue, Wash. "There's always a risk of someone being overzealous in making claims and putting Twitter in the role of blocking content," he tells TechHive.

"Twitter appears to be conscious of that issue and is concerned that its service is not abused," he says.

Corynne McSherry, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of San Francisco, agrees that the change in takedown policy is a good move by Twitter. "It is progress to have language explaining the takedown," she says. "It's the right approach."

Forwarding DMCA challenges to Chilling Effects is a good move, too, Siy adds. "It's important that we have a record of how the DMCA is being used and abused over the years since its passage, and hopefully, the Twitter takedowns will contribute a lot to understanding how well the law is working."

The Twitter policy change came on the heels of a settlement it made with artist Christopher Boffoli in which he withdrew a lawsuit against the microblogging service after it removed copies of Boffoli's artwork posted to Twitter without his permission.

In place of the art, Twitter posted a tweet which said: "This image has been removed in response to a report from the copyright holder."

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