NMPA’s Twitter/X Copyright Suit Moves Forward on Contributory Infringement Grounds Following Partial Dismissal

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nmpa twitter copyright lawsuit
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A federal judge has partially dismissed the copyright infringement lawsuit filed against Twitter/X by the NMPA, though a portion of the organization’s contributory infringement arguments remain in play. Photo Credit: Rubaitul Azad

The National Music Publishers’ Association’s copyright infringement lawsuit against Twitter/X is proceeding, though the presiding judge has partially granted the social-media company’s dismissal motion.

Judge Aleta Trauger just recently ruled on the defendant business’s motion to dismiss, which had been submitted back in August of 2023. We covered that development as well as the initial June of 2023 complaint from the NMPA (and all manner of associated publishers), which accused the Elon Musk-owned service of direct, vicarious, and contributory infringement alike.

But Judge Trauger has dismissed the direct infringement claim altogether, determining in a just-penned order that Twitter/X’s alleged conduct doesn’t fall within the scope of the Copyright Act’s “transmit clause” as defined in a related 2014 Supreme Court decision.

“X/Twitter was more like a telephone company—providing the mechanism for communication between independent communicators—than like a cable company that actively selects material to make available,” the court wrote.

“X/Twitter’s activity, whatever its legality, is qualitatively distinct from the kind of ‘transmission’ at issue in the Transmit Clause and is much better-suited to the tools of secondary liability,” Judge Trauger spelled out.

Notwithstanding the latter finding, the court also tossed multiple components of the NMPA’s contributory infringement claim, referring specifically to those concerning “a theory of comprehensive general liability for infringement across the X/Twitter platform.”

“Many of the supposedly problematic practices that the plaintiffs identify are unremarkable features of X/Twitter generally that X Corp. has simply failed to fence off completely from infringers,” the court penned.

“For example, while the plaintiffs make much of X/Twitter’s monetization of infringing tweets by surrounding them with paid-for promoted material, there is no allegation that those practices were meaningfully different than those X/Twitter applied to monetize popular, but entirely non-infringing, tweets.”

In brief, the court has enabled the NMPA’s contributory infringement claim to proceed specifically in terms of the allegations that Twitter/X “allowed users to pay for more forgiving treatment under its anti-infringement policies” via verified accounts, “was unreasonably dilatory” when handling takedown notices, and “failed to take appropriate steps” against “severe repeat infringers.”

Lastly, Judge Trauger also dismissed the NMPA’s third claim, involving alleged vicarious infringement – stressing for good measure that the plaintiffs can, however, utilize related evidence in support of the still-standing contributory infringement claim.

“As with the issue of direct infringement,” the court explained, “the plaintiffs are trying to force X Corp’s actions into a category not intended to account for the actual character of the relationships at issue, when there is a tool—the doctrine of contributory infringement— uniquely suited to the job.”

In a statement, the NMPA said it’s “pleased” with the decision and is looking “forward to securing just compensation for the songwriters and music publishers whose work is being stolen.”