I had an annoying surprise this weekend: an email from a bank telling me that Twitter had deleted two of my tweets for copyright violations. The email also contained a threat: If I continued to violate the bank’s rights, my Twitter account would be deleted.
Needless to say, I deny the allegation. Quoting from or posting a brief segment of a research document is not a violation of copyright.
The bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, did not return multiple messages requesting comment. Twitter declined comment other than to point me to the company’s copyright policy.
And while this is only two tweets, there is a principle at stake. Investment banks apparently have the power to censor journalists on Twitter, simply by asking.
That is depressing.
The two tweets were probably trivial. I say trivial because now they are deleted, I cannot read them. And this is the most sinister thing about it: I have no idea what Twitter agreed to censor for BAML, and no way of guessing what BAML’s objection was really about — or if it was even BAML who made the complaint.
It’s similar to George Orwell’s memory hole, from the book “1984,” in which information that people don’t like is destroyed so no one can remember it.
There is some vestigial evidence from one of my tweets, which now looks like this:
Sometimes analysts write funny headlines on their investment notes. When I see one I like, I take a screengrab of the headline and tweet it out. That is what seems to have happened here.
I am not sure the other tweet is even mine. Here is the URL, which is now a dead link: https://twitter.com/JFinDallas/status/666268915073335296
The deletions occurred after one of BAML’s service providers complained under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The act was intended to protect creative people by giving them strong rights to stop pirates from making copies of their works and publishing them free. But tech companies have largely interpreted the act as requiring them to delete content from their servers as soon as someone complains that it has been posted without permission, regardless of how frivolous the copyright claim might be, even outside the US.
The claim here is (in my view) frivolous because I tweeted only a small portion of analyst Teo Lasarte’s note to clients. If I had tweeted out a PDF of the whole thing, for anyone to download, that would be a decent copyright violation claim. But copyright law in both the US and the UK contains an exemption for “fair use” in news stories. You can quote, or show a snippet of, a copyrighted work to illustrate a point in published news or criticism. That’s why TV shows can show brief scenes from movies without paying — but not the whole movie without permission.
I suspect that neither Twitter nor BAML actually knew about this. The DMCA claim came from a person called Devon E. E. Weston at something called Attributor Corporation. There is a Devon Weston who works at Digimarc, a company that does digital rights management, and Digimarc acquired Attributor Corp. in 2012. Assuming it is the same person, I reached out to her by email and on LinkedIn for comment.
Digimarc/Attributor Corp. is probably sending out DMCA notices on behalf of BAML en masse. The fact that one of the deleted tweets in the claim seems to have come from someone else makes it look as if the claim was dumped in there by error.
And BAML hasn’t contested all my tweets that discuss its work. Here is one that is still live, which I hope demonstrates how harmless my tweets actually are:
I have appealed the claim via Twitter’s system. It will be interesting to see how effective that is.
Disclosure: The author owns Twitter stock.