Oil Industry Group Claims Copyright On Oil Pricing Data, Gets Twitter To Delete Tweets

from the not-how-it's-supposed-to-work dept

The American Petroleum Institute (API), a group that represents the oil industry, apparently releases a fee-based report on oil prices, which is released to paying subscribers a week before the US government releases “official” data. For obvious reasons, this information is fairly valuable to traders, who are more than willing to pay the monthly fee to get early access to some crucial information on the price of oil. Apparently, last week, some people then took that data, and tweeted about it… leading API to issue DMCA takedown notices, which Twitter promptly complied with.

On Tuesday, several accounts posted the API data shortly after it was released to subscribers at 4.30 p.m. EDT. The posts were widely shared across the social network. Prices extended their losses shortly after the report, which showed a larger-than-expected increase in weekly inventories.

An account named @Cornice_Trading posted the data along with a message saying, “I don’t have a sub, whatchugonnado API?!?” Through Wednesday afternoon, it had been retweeted five times and had received six likes.

[….]

The accounts named by API in its complaint to Twitter include oil traders and the popular financial commentary account @zerohedge, which has more than 300,000 followers. Two tweets by @zerohedge have been removed by Twitter in recent weeks. Zerohedge, which also runs a popular website, received notices from both the social network and from API, according to a spokesman for the website.

The article notes that, in the DMCA takedown letter sent by API, the group’s lawyers claimed: “The posted excerpts contain the most important content of the WSB and is the heart of the work that API has created.” This is, quite clearly, an attempt to pre-empt any fair use claim. Claiming that “the heart of the work” was included is based on the infamous Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises case about publishing excerpts of former President Gerald Ford’s memoir.

But that’s meaningless if it’s true that the information published was just factual data about oil prices. The Supreme Court decision in Feist v. Rural Telephone makes it clear that purely factual data gets no copyright protection at all. So if the data that is “at the heart” of what API released is nothing more than aggregated factual data, then it could not be deemed to have the minimum amount of “original creativity” included, and thus is not covered by copyright.

Even beyond that, if the information was covered by copyright, there still seems to be a strong fair use argument as well. But either way, Twitter simply decided to take those tweets down. The company claimed that it “has” to do that when it receives a valid DMCA notice, but that’s not true. This is a constant misrepresentation of the DMCA. It just says that to retain the safe harbors, that say you’re not liable, you need to take the content down. And, yes, while many risk averse lawyers will insist those two things are the same, because no company wants to give up its safe harbors, many companies can and do reject such bogus DMCA notices, recognizing that if the notices are bogus and the content is not infringing, then they’ll be safe whether or not they have the safe harbors.

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Companies: american petroleum institute, twitter

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Comments on “Oil Industry Group Claims Copyright On Oil Pricing Data, Gets Twitter To Delete Tweets”

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20 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

On paper vs In practice

The company claimed that it “has” to do that when it receives a valid DMCA notice, but that’s not true. This is a constant misrepresentation of the DMCA. It just says that to retain the safe harbors, that say you’re not liable, you need to take the content down.

Given how utterly insane all things copyright can get, with a single album’s worth of songs leading to hundreds of thousands in ‘damages’, for all intents and purposes they’re right, a company pretty much has to immediately take down content claimed as infringing unless they want to take a huge risk.

When the potential penalties for being found involved in copyright infringement can bury a small company, and take a nice chunk out of even a large one they really have no other option, and ‘optional’ becomes effectively ‘mandatory’, exactly as it was designed to be.

If only the uploader of infringing content was able to be taken to court over it, and companies didn’t have to worry about being involved in hugely expensive legal battles over content they had nothing to do with, then they’d be able to make measured, rational decisions as to whether or not they really believed that someone sending in a DMCA claim had a valid case and the content deserved to be taken down. That however is anything but the case, and as it stands the completely one-sided law provides all the incentive a company needs to operate under a ‘remove first, ask questions later’ mindset with regards to claims of infringement, while there are no incentives not to do so.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Creativity in Lists

Probably depends upon whether one took their MAFIAA medicine in a timely, ongoing fashion and had their rose colored glasses (with blinders) appropriately tuned to obscure anything called fair.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that data is beautiful because they told you it was, and you can’t doubt them because you are not allowed to behold it.

Sunhawk says:

Facts are not subject to copyright, yup.

I suppose they might be able to argue that those figures are trade secrets… but that would only allow them to go after the source that disclosed the figures to the first unauthorized person (as the unauthorized people would definitely not have any kind of responsibility to keep the information secret).

Although if the leak source *didn’t* sign a contract or the like that specified they have that kind of responsibility, a lawsuit there would probably fail too.

At least, from my limited understanding of trade secrets.

Anonymous Coward says:

While most of the article is accurate. The snipe at twitter at the end is disingenuous. You and everyone else knows full-well that when twitter says they “have to take it down” they mean in order to keep their safe-harbor status.

Your twit, as non-infringing as it may be, is worth less to them then their safe-harbor status. It sucks, but if you want it to change, you need to start harassing your congress-critter.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Facts can not be copyrighted...

Seeded data (which is what you are talking about) unless specifically stated as seeded is still not copyrightable if it is pure numerical data.

Names of streets, or towns that do not exist is entirely different. Though if the street name etc is misspelt (which is a way to seed as well) that too is not copyrightable.

In this case anyway, the codes used by the API MUST exist for the API to even post them and are not seeded. Though if the actual data itself is, that creates other problems that brings the whole API data into a new world of mistrust.

Anonymous Coward says:

As sad as it makes me, I could see a potential Copyright Extension Act of 2018 expand both copyright duration and scope by granting protection to facts and ideas.

On a side note: All the people I know who are invested in IP favor copyright extension. In true ironic fashion the last extension act 1998 left them no better off than they were before.

They’re still hoping that with longer copyright maybe one day their work will suddenly get popular and they’ll have “hit the jackpot”.

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