Mar 5, 2024 - Business

Music publishers' copyright lawsuit against X can proceed, judge rules

Elon Musk, CEO of X (formerly known as Twitter) speaks during a live interview with Ben Shapiro (not seen) at the symposium on fighting antisemitism in Krakow, Poland on January 22, 2024.

Elon Musk in Krakow, Poland, earlier this year. Photo: Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images

Music publishers accusing X of widespread copyright infringement can proceed with parts of their lawsuit against Elon Musk's platform formerly known as Twitter, but a federal judge dismissed several key aspects of it.

The big picture: U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger said in a Tuesday ruling in Nashville, Tennessee, that the "ultimate questions presented" by the 17 music publishers in this case remained: "whether and to what extent X Corp. may be liable for the infringing acts of users on its platform."

  • Trauger rejected two infringement claims, organized by the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA), and found a third claim that X had "engaged in contributory infringement" unproven.

Yes, but: While Trauger rejected that there had been "comprehensive general liability for infringement across the X/Twitter platform," she said she found the allegation that the firm "enforces its copyright policies less stringently" against users of its verified service "[p]articularly striking."

  • "If X Corp. truly did allow some users to effectively purchase the right to be able to infringe with less severe consequences, then that was plausibly an instance of promoting X/Twitter's use to infringe copyright," she wrote.
  • The judge found the publishers could have a case in their allegations that X "engaged in contributory infringement by failing to take meaningful steps to address the actions of severe serial infringers."

What we're watching: If "there was a class of X/Twitter users who were brazenly using the platform as an infringement tool, and X Corp. made the decision to unreasonably withhold enforcement of its own policies against those users, with the foreseeable consequence of ongoing infringement, then X Corp. could plausibly be held contributorily liable," the judge wrote.

  • "If X Corp. engaged in egregious delays in responding to valid takedown notices, or outright ignored some notices that were both facially and actually valid, that could support liability."

Context: The NMPA organized the lawsuit on behalf of the major publishers including Sony Music Publishing, Concord Music Group, Universal Music Group and Warner Chappell Music last year.

  • They're seeking some $250 million in damages for the alleged infringements of songs by representatives of some of the world's biggest artists.

What they're saying: An NMPA spokesperson said in a statement to Billboard that they're "pleased" with the judge's decision.

  • "The spread of rampant music piracy on the platform is obvious and unacceptable, and we look forward to securing just compensation for the songwriters and music publishers whose work is being stolen," they said.
  • Representatives for X did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Read the ruling, obtained by The Verge, in full via DocumentCloud:

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