Twitter and the DMCA: A Fine Mess



Over the past few weeks, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for information about Twitter and their DMCA procedure. Most of these issues stem from avatar or backgrounds that are infringing, not the tweets themselves. It seems the exponential increase in Twitter members has brought with it a wide range of individuals who are decorating their profiles with the works of artists that didn’t grant permission.

However, I’ve been hard pressed to advise these people as Twitter’s DMCA process is an unadulterated mess. There are three separate policies, one of which appears to be out of date, two separate email addresses and three different means of filing a notice.

It appears that these issues may have caught Twitter as off guard as the other trappings of their popularity and their response to the issue appears scattered, creating headaches for anyone who has had their content misused on the site.

The Problem

If you visit the Twitter Support site, and then the Terms of Service help forum, the first related item is entitled simply “Filing Terms of Service or Rules complaints“.

On that page, the very first section deals with filing a copyright notice. It says the following:

Copyright complaints concern the unauthorized distribution or republishing of copyrighted material. In order for something to be removed for copyright purposes, we must receive a DMCA take down notice by mail or fax. Email is not sufficient. If we receive a physical take down notice, Twitter will respond within 24 hours of receiving this document.

This is incorrect on many different fronts, many of which I talked about when dealing with Google, which has a similar policy for many of its sites, but what makes it worse is that clicking the link to read the full policy, and supposedly get the fax number/mailing address, takes you to a broken link.


However, if you go back to the forum home page, you see another topic entitled “Filing a copyright complaint or DMCA take down notice“. That page, contains a much different copyright policy, one with an email (copyright@), the fax number, the mailing address and even an invitation to file via the support form.

This is a complete turnaround from the first policy, which said that “Email is not sufficient” and requires a “physical” takedown notice.

However, all of this is altered yet again when you look up their DMCA contact information on the U.S. Copyright Office Web site

. It uses a different email address (support@) and was filed two months before either of the above policies went live.

In short, Twitter currently has three different DMCA filing procedures.

  1. A procedure that requires a fax or an email
  2. One that may be sent to copyright@ or filed via a support form
  3. A final one that should be sent to support@

This isn’t worrisome in that Twitter is not attempting to follow the DMCA or isn’t taking the law seriously, it clearly is, but there is clearly an organization issue here and that’s leading to confusion.

My Advice

The filing with the Copyright Office is two months before the two posts on the Twitter help site, both of which went up in December, thus, I believe that the second one is the real policy and, recently, I’ve been encouraging people to file DMCA notices using Twitter’s support function. This seems to work.

Many of the notices filed by members get rejected because they are incomplete. It is important to remember you do still have to file a full DMCA notice so use my stock letter and paste it into the form, failure to do so (or use another complete notice) will result in it getting kicked back.

If that fails, send a message to both the support@ and copyright@ accounts. Though either should work (notices people sent to the support@ account have been acted on) it is better to be safe than sorry so long as there is conflicting information.

Between those two things, the matter should be handled. I haven’t had anyone be told they need to send a fax or snail mail letter, as the first policy indicates, but it is important to be aware Twitter has indicated as such, just in case that changes.

The Strange Caveat

There is another element to this that is worth mentioning. When you’re dealing with images on the Twitter, service, which does seem to make up the bulk of the copyright complaints, the images are not actually hosted on Twitter’s servers, but they use Amazon S3. You can tell this clearly when you look at an image by itself, as with my profile pic.

Amazon has its own DMCA procedure that could be used to file a takedown against those images.

However, in this case, it doesn’t seem that such a takedown is quite in order. Not only would it likely be slower to work with Amazon, especially since Twitter promises to respond within 24 hours (at least in one of their policies), but Twitter would be in a position to take other actions, such as banning accounts of repeat infringers.

This may well be an exception to the image/file hosting problem.

Bottom Line

Twitter clearly has some work to do in this area. Though it is understandable that the Copyright Office papers would be different from the site, especially considering if often takes months for updated filings to appear on the site, but the dueling policies on the Twitter site itself, especially with the broken link and direct contradictions between them, is not excusable.

My hope is that Twitter will clarify their policy, take the second one as their actual DMCA procedure and be done with it. The second one makes the most sense and offers the best solution to the problem.

Failing that, I at least hope they can unify their language and their policy, so that everyone knows what the procedure is. After all, the only thing worse than having a bad policy is having three different ones.

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  1. This is almost as bad as Facebook's policy. You can hit them at all three, and yet they still want you to privately work it out with the infringing party. I'm just waiting for someone to sue them under the “expeditious” language. Their corporate counsel was scheduled to speak at the ABA's IP Conference this year, but I had other priorities and wasn't able to go. I'd love to hear his arguments for their policy.

  2. My dealings with facebook have been limited for a lot of reasons but I seriously doubt their council would have offered much of a defense. I'm surprised how many of these policies are decided not by the lawyers that actually understand the law, but by corporate heads thinking they can save face a few bucks…

  3. I wonder if you tried to call them on the phone? I'm sure that the only phone in the Twitter offices, a tall black dial phone with coin slots across the top, really could use a dusting…A critique like this on a destination blog seems overtly incomplete when you weren't able to chat with the right people. At a communications company. Especially one with employees that seem easy to find and open to conversation. It makes it look like you didn't work very hard to try and contact them.

  4. where it says "Twitter members has brought with it a wide range of individuals who are decorating their profiles with the works of artists that didn’t grant permission."Whoever is sending these emails and complaining are kind of dumb. I'm an artist myself , if a person doesnt want his work to be copyright infringed then they should not have it on the internet visible to the public, or visible for free. any type of artwork visible for free end up being a persons wallpaper on their pc, printed then hanged on the wall, us as a template theme like twitter or all other 3rd party applications, i mean the list goes on. i guess people who see another idea that has become big or successfull and they become jelious and find ways to sue them to make money. Twitter isnt making a penny on its operation so to take money from it would be un heartful.

  5. I grant that I didn't call them. When I do these analysis I approach it from the perspective of someone who is inexperienced with the DMCA and is trying to find the information on their own.The DMCA requires hosts to make certain kinds of information publicly both on their sites and the USCO's site. The problem with Twitter isn't that they didn't provide the information, but that it is highly conflicting. Could a call have straightened it out? Possibly. But the DMCA was written to make that unnecessary for a lot of reasons.If you view the analysis as incomplete, that's you're decision. But the law is clear on this matter There is no reason an issue like this should ever exist. Period.

  6. Every artist has to choose their own copyright license and the terms that they want to share their works under. I'm not a believer in the notion that putting your work on the Web instantly sacrifices all of your rights to it, but I do understand that many artists have copyleft licensing, including this site, and that is their right.It is worth noting though that almost all of the infringement I've seen on Twitter comes without any attribution, thus putting it in violation of any Creative Commons License (save CC0). It is understandable why artists, even though that want to allow copying of their work, may be concerned about this unattributed and, in many cases, plagiarized use of their work.


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