The time bomb that waits in my tweets

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Of the many tech product launches I have witnessed over the years, Elon Musk’s unveiling of a new Tesla Roadster in 2017 was one of the most memorable.

“Driving a gasoline-powered sports car is going to look like a steam engine with a quiche side,” Musk said, as the bright red supercar ripped through the tarmac outside Tesla’s Los Angeles design studio, on a soundtrack of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. The crowd went wild and one video I tweeted of the moment got hundreds of thousands of views.

Sadly, production of the Roadster has been delayed until 2023. In the meantime, my four-year-old tweet has come back to haunt me. Last month, an email from Twitter informed me that my 17-second Tesla video had been removed following a copyright infringement complaint from Universal Music.

My tweet was one of dozens identified by the record company as “unlicensed reproductions” of the Beastie Boys track. If I repost it, or any other infringing material, Twitter warned, I face the prospect of a “permanent account suspension.”

This is my 15th year on Twitter. Since 2006, I have posted over 26,000 tweets, made countless valuable contacts and broken many stories thanks to the platform. But those 26,000 tweets are now also a potential liability. Is there another time bomb buried amid the #breakingnews and my thoughts on sandwiches?

While some Twitter users have been “canceled” by an online mob, my copyright infringement has most likely been identified by an algorithmic crawler, which scans the web continuously on behalf of record companies. . Twitter has yet to hit the genre of music license agreement that YouTube and TikTok have with tags that can isolate their users from certain complaints. I could say that my clip was “fair useWhich allows short extracts without a license, but challenging the order may involve legal action, incurring disproportionate costs to any legal or moral victory.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, under which Twitter removed my video, has been the subject of debate in tech circles for two decades. The automated withdrawal system he created is vulnerable to abuse. A report this summer suggested that some California police officers were playing Taylor Swift songs on their phones to prevent people they confronted or stopped from posting a video of the meeting on YouTube.

Even the Beastie Boys, whose track I unwittingly “stole” defied the DMCA. In 2004, the group appeared on the cover of Wired magazine alongside the title “Fight for your right to copy”. It was a time when online piracy was so prevalent and music sampling so prevalent that some artists were considering blowing up copyright altogether.

A Beastie Boy, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, told Wired magazine then that the “worst part” of the sampling was that the original artists “don’t really get paid anyway … because there are so many layers in the situation now, some lawyers end up seeing most of the money.”

Today, most artists make far more income from shows and related products than from their recorded works, while the DMCA continues to occupy the lawyers. Meanwhile, thanks to music streaming services like Spotify, the returning catalog of a leading actor has never been more valuable for labels like Universal.

The same cannot be said of my Twitter archives. The half-life of a tweet is short. Most get all of their opinions within half an hour of posting. Yet despite this feeling of ephemeral, Twitter’s flaw is that tweets last forever.

The platform currently offers very few tools that can help users manage their archives. Automated data cleansing every few months would be a welcome option. Her only advice for users who want to clear historical tweets is to either do it one at a time or create a new account from scratch, which isn’t very convenient. There are third-party tools that offer mass deletion, but I’m reluctant to hand over my account keys to unverified operators.

The online “right to be forgotten” is often presented as a way for scoundrels to erase their misdeeds from collective memory. I remain a supporter of the Internet Archive, which has maintained websites for 25 years. But a decade after Snapchat introduced endangered digital messages, other social media companies still haven’t learned that many of us would rather not leave all of our online conversations scattered across the highway behind. we.

Tim Bradshaw is the FT’s Global Technology Correspondent. Twitter: @tim



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