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Twitter blocks account of IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

The micro blogging site cited a DMCA notice wherein a tweet of the union minister generated copyright complaint with the social media platform
Ravi Shankar Prasad

R. Suryamurthy   |   New Delhi   |   Published 26.06.21, 02:12 AM

Union minister for electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad announced on Twitter on Friday: “Friends! Something highly peculiar happened today. 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 (DMCA) of the USA and subsequently they allowed me to access the account.”

Twitter said it had received a complaint against a tweet that Prasad had posted on December 16, 2017, on Vijay Diwas.


Others suggested the action was not as “highly peculiar” as the minister proclaimed although not everyone agreed with what Twitter did.

“Raviji, the same thing just happened to me,” tweeted Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. “Clearly DMCA is getting hyperactive.”

Journalist Rohini Singh sought to put matters in perspective through multiple tweets: “Calm down. I received a similar notice some days back because of a video I tweeted of doctors dancing. The song was copyrighted and in the West it is a big deal. Happens all the time. Read up a bit on laws and check your email. You will get to know who complained.”

She added: “DMCA doesn’t differentiate a VIP and an ‘honourable minister’ from an ordinary citizen. For it, everyone is equal before the law. Pity Twitter doesn’t have a lal batti on accounts of India’s cabinet ministers.”

Prasad’s account was blocked at a time the Narendra Modi government and Twitter are locked in a spat over the information technology intermediary guidelines.

Twitter said in a statement: “We can confirm that the Honourable Minister’s account access was temporarily restricted due to a DMCA notice only and the referenced tweet has been withheld.”

It added: “Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorised representatives.”

Sources indicated that a copyright violation had arisen because Prasad’s tweet had carried a video with a background score linked to music director A.R. Rahman’s song Maa Tujhe Salaam, for which Sony Music holds the rights.

In the tweet, Prasad had reportedly saluted the martyrs and heroes of the 1971 war with Pakistan. It could not be ascertained who had complained or why the complaint had been lodged three years and a half after the tweet was posted.

The minister was livid after the latest run-in with Twitter and accused it of “gross violation of Rule 4(8) of the 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 account”.

“No matter what any platform does, they will have to abide by the IT Rules fully and there shall be no compromise on that,” Prasad said.

The contentious intermediary rules have been a red rag for social media giants like Twitter and WhatsApp, which have accused the Modi government of trying to curb free speech in India.

Prasad said in a series of posts on Koo, a rival social media platform created by local entrepreneurs, that Twitter’s latest action showed that his recent statements calling out the US micro-blogging platform for its high-handed and arbitrary actions had “clearly ruffled its feathers”.

Tharoor said a tweet he had posted attaching a video that included pop group BoneyM’s famous song Rasputin had triggered similar action against him, which was later sorted out.

The Congress MP said that Indians “creatively make videos” using short snippets of foreign music, and most people would deem that “fair use”.

Tharoor said the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which zealously defends Sony Music’s rights to Rasputin, was the complainant in his case.

However, Tharoor said that as chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on information technology, he would be “seeking an explanation” from Twitter India for blocking Prasad’s and his access to their accounts. Efforts would also be made to ascertain the rules that Twitter follows in India.

Twitter’s latest transparency report says it received 174,000 DMCA takedown notices between January and June 2020, with a compliance rate of 57 per cent.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed in the US in 1998 and blends provisions outlined in two treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The DMCA slaps penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet.

N.S. Nappinai, Supreme Court advocate and founder of Cyber Saathi, said: “Twitter’s actions do not really further their case. That a law has extraterritorial jurisdiction by itself does not allow it to overrule local laws of the land. Extraterritorial jurisdiction is built into laws to allow for remedies to victims within the said territory. Hence for India, it’s the Indian Copyright Act that prevails. By their actions in effect Twitter is cocking a snook not at an individual or a Union minister but at Indian laws.”

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