How Not to Get Banned From Twitter for Music Copyright Infringement
By: Carolyn Toto & Kimberly Buffington, Pillsbury Law
May 23, 2019
This spring, social media accounts for the Houston Rockets, Iowa State, Auburn Tigers and Rutgers were suspended by Twitter for copyright violations. The culprit? The unauthorized use of copyrighted music in Twitter posts.
This isn’t the first time Twitter has cracked down on copyright infringement. The Hill reports that in 2018, several college football accounts were suspended before being restored the next day, including The University of Texas—which has more than 230,000 followers.
Whether or not your brand is in the sports space, copyright infringement is increasingly of concern for brands in every industry as intellectual property law continues to evolve. Social marketers should endeavor to have at least a working knowledge of potential legal issues as they produce and schedule social content.
How can social marketers avoid risking their company channels’ following and reputation on the merit of a single tweet? The Social Shake-Up reached out to Carolyn Toto and Kimberly Buffington, both partners at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP—a law firm with a specialty in social media law—for their advice.
Get permission from the copyright owner if you are going to use their music on your social media account. “It doesn’t matter if you give credit to the owner, you need to negotiate a license to use the music or else risk a copyright infringement claim, especially if you are using the music in an ad campaign or for some other commercial use,” says Toto. “Even if you do not think it is a commercial use, you should err on the side of caution since what is or is not commercial use may not always be clear.”
Clip length doesn’t matter. Says Buffington, “It is important to exercise all due caution when using even snippets of copyrighted works. Fair use or other defenses may apply, but it is best to err on the side of caution and consult counsel.”
To obtain a license, reach out directly. Toto advises marketers to reach out to the artist directly if the artist is independent—i.e., publishing on their own behalf—or to the publisher of the song, if not.
Save money with royalty-free music. Operating on a shoestring budget? Toto recommends leveraging online libraries of stock royalty-free music that allow the purchaser to pay for the music license one time. After that one-time payment, the purchaser can use the music “for as long as desired.”
Consider music as copyrighted from the get-go. “It’s safest to assume the music content you want to use is protected by copyright,” says Toto. If there’s even mild speculation around copyright, “social media managers should always run the music and context of the use of the music through legal.”