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Indian minister accuses Twitter of pursuing a personal vendetta after Sony Music takedown

By | Published on Wednesday 30 June 2021


Indian politician Ravi Shankar Prasad has accused Twitter of stifling free speech after it briefly denied him access to his personal account on the platform. Although he was only actually blocked from seeing his tweets until he’d familiarised himself with the basics of copyright law. Which, admittedly, is quite a bold ask of a country’s Minister For Law & Justice.

This was all triggered by a takedown notice from Sony Music. However, Prasad – who is also India’s Minister For Communications, Electronics & Information Technology – accused Twitter of retaliating against him for his recent criticism of the social media company. He also claimed that the suspension of his account was in breach of new Indian laws governing social media platforms, which came into force last month.

“Something highly peculiar happened today”, Prasad wrote on Twitter a few days ago. “Twitter denied access to my account for almost an hour on the alleged ground that there was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the USA and subsequently they allowed me to access the account”.

“Twitter’s actions were in gross violation of Rule 4(8) of [India’s] Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 where they failed to provide me any prior notice before denying me access to my own account”, he added

“It is apparent”, he then claimed, “that my statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers”.

Prasad went on to state that: “Twitter’s actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be, but are only interested in running their own agenda”.

This is the latest phase in the Indian government’s battle against the big social media platforms. The new laws regarding social media companies give the country’s government more power to police content on services including Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. This follows refusals by those platforms to remove content that the government simply doesn’t like.

Since the new laws were imposed – despite a grace period of three months – Prasad has repeatedly accused Twitter of refusing to comply with them. He and other politicians have also been critical of the platform for marking some material shared by leaders of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party as ‘manipulated media’ last month.

For its part, Twitter said earlier this month that it is in regular contact with officials in India and “continues to make every effort to comply with the new guidelines”.

Still, Prasad is presenting this latest incident as a personal attack on him, claiming that it was political tensions that led to him being kicked off Twitter. Though it’s possibly worth remembering that the reason we know about all this is because, well, he tweeted about it. So he wasn’t really kicked off Twitter at all.

In his initial tweet the minister shared screengrabs showing what he had been faced with when he tried to access his Twitter account late last week.

A warning alert from Twitter said that it had received a DMCA takedown notice from a third party against his account – so a takedown request issued according to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act – and that in order to login he would have to first take a look at the company’s copyright policy.

It did also warn that repeat copyright infringements can result in accounts being suspended, although that is not what happened on this occasion.

Twitter also said that it was removing the offending tweet. The alert did not state exactly what content triggered the action, but it appears to have been a 2017 video in which Prasad paid tribute to the Indian Army on the anniversary of the 1971 Bangladesh War.

The issue, however, wasn’t Prasad’s message, rather the music used to soundtrack it. A search of the Lumen database of takedown notices shows that a complaint relating to the video was filed by the IFPI on behalf of Sony Music. The takedown says that the video infringed the major’s copyright though the unlicensed used of AR Rahman’s 1997 track ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’.

In a statement to India’s Economic Times, the IFPI confirmed that it was the source of the takedown notice, but said that it was not responsible for how Twitter acts upon those notices. However, it did also use the whole incident to do a bit of general Twitter bashing, something that has become a popular past-time in the music industry in recent years, of course.

“Unlike other social media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, Twitter has not taken a licence for music content”, an IFPI spokesperson told the newspaper. “As a result, IFPI works on behalf of its member record companies and their artists to notify the platform when we believe content has been uploaded without the permission of the rights holder”.

“We believe that the best way to avoid these situations in the future is for Twitter to take a licence for the content uploaded onto its platform”, they added. “This would ensure – as with other platforms – users are free to upload and enjoy music content in the knowledge that Indian songwriters, artists and producers are being fairly rewarded”.

So, while Prasad tried his best to make all this about Twitter violating Indian social media laws, it’s really about Prasad not complying with American copyright laws. Or, if you prefer, another example of what happens when big tech firms don’t get their music licences sorted.