Court Orders Twitter Reveal Anonymous Tweeter Over Sketchy Copyright Claim, Because That Tweeter Won't Show Up In Court

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

Back in November we wrote about a very bizarre attempt to abuse copyright law to uncover who was behind a Twitter account, @CallMeMoneyBags. That account tweeted out various things mocking and shaming various extremely wealthy people, including billionaire Brian Sheth, a private equity bro. Some of the tweets in the fall of 2020 lightly mocked Sheth, including suggesting potential infidelity. The images themselves appeared to be social media-type photos of young women (or possibly just one young woman).

Sometime later, an organization called “Bayside Advisory LLC” showed up, claiming to hold the copyright on those images, and demanding Twitter take down the images — which the company did. However, Bayside also tried to use the more controversial DMCA 512(h) subpoena process to try to uncover who was behind the MoneyBags account. That raised red flags with the legal team at Twitter, which is always careful not to give up someone’s identity unless absolutely required to by law. Twitter moved to quash the subpoena, suggesting that — given all of the context — it seemed most likely that the person behind this effort was Sheth, who was trying to uncover the identify of an anonymous critic on social media, and not for any legitimate copyright reason.

Bayside, for its part, insists that it has no connection to Sheth at all, though it does not identify on whose behalf it actually acts. The company only registered the copyright on those photos well after MoneyBags posted them, meaning there’s no real value in suing (if the registration happens after the supposed infringement, then you’re limited to “actual damages” which, here, would be nothing). The only real reason for issuing the subpoena is to find out who MoneyBags really is. Bayside also claims that it “advises and partners with creators, artists, entrepreneurs to protect, promote, and champion creative expression. Bayside owns a catalog of photographs (the photographs are only a small part of the catalog) to exploit for those purposes.”

That would have been more convincing if there was a long record of Bayside LLC registering similar copyrights, but, as we noted in our original article, there is not. It registered the photos in question… and those were the only registrations by Bayside until well after it sought the subpoena, at which point is suddenly registered some other unpublished photos.

We were dismayed at the time that the court did not grant Twitter’s motion to quash. Instead, it said that to do a full “fair use” analysis, it needed to hear from MoneyBags directly, and ordered Twitter to notify the user that s/he should file a declaration with the court about the use of the photos. Twitter did, apparently, send the info to MoneyBags, but MoneyBags (very unfortunately) chose not to file with the court (it’s unclear if anyone is even checking the MoneyBags account any more as it hasn’t posted in a while).

Therefore, the court has said that since it can’t conduct the proper fair use analysis, Twitter has to reveal who is behind the account.

Here, the court need not decide whether it is appropriate to use fair use as a proxy for the First Amendment analysis in a copyright infringement case involving an anonymous speaker, or whether to instead use the Highfields standard. This is because the speaker fails to meet either test on the current record.

On November 4, 2021, the court issued an order stating that ?it lacks a well-developed record on which to base any ruling? on the issue of fair use. Nov. 4, 2021 Order 2; compare In re DMCA, 441 F. Supp. 3d at 884 (conducting fair use analysis where ?[t]he record is well developed, and neither side contends that any evidence material to the fair use inquiry is missing,? noting ?the salient evidence is not meaningfully disputed.?). The court determined that evidence of ?the user?s purpose and intended meaning? in posting the tweets, which is relevant to the first and third factors of the fair use test, ?is likely available only from the individual(s) who posted the tweets.? Moreover, it concluded, Twitter?s contentions about the purpose of the tweets was speculative. Nov. 4, 2021 Order 3. The court also noted that it lacked sufficient information to ?balance ?the magnitude of the harms that would be caused to the competing interests by a ruling in favor of [Bayside] and by a ruling in favor of [Twitter and the user of the @CallMeMoneyBags account]?? to the extent such a balancing was necessary, again finding that Twitter?s assertions on that point were speculative. Id. (quoting Art of Living Foundation v. Does, No. 10-cv-05022 LHK, 2011 WL 5444622, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 9, 2011) (quoting Highfields, 385 F. Supp. 2d at 980)).

Therefore, the court ordered Twitter to immediately serve a copy of the November 4, 2021 Order and the parties? briefing on the email address associated with the @CallMeMoneyBags account. The court gave the account user(s) until December 10, 2021 to make a special and anonymous appearance to file evidence regarding fair use and/or the harms that may result if the court denies the motion to quash. Nov. 4, 2021 Order 3-4. Twitter served the user(s) on November 8, 2021. [Docket No. 20.] No appearance has been made on behalf of any individual associated with the @CallMeMoneyBags account.

As noted, ?the burden of proving fair use is always on the putative infringer.? Lenz, 815 F.3d at 1153 (quotation omitted). On the current record and solely for the purpose of determining whether this subpoena should be quashed or enforced, the court is unable to conclude that @CallMeMoneyBags?s use of Bayside?s copyrighted photos constituted fair use because the anonymous speaker did not augment the record in order to meet their burden. The first factor looks to ?whether and to what extent the new work is ?transformative.?? Campbell, 510 U.S. at 579. Relatedly, the third factor asks whether ?the quantity and value of the materials used . . . are reasonable in relation to the purpose of the copying.? Id. at 586 (quotation marks and citation omitted). The tweets at issue consist of statements combined with Bayside?s photos along with hashtags that do not convey an obvious meaning. Without evidence regarding the purpose and meaning of the tweets, the court cannot say that @CallMeMoneyBags?s use of the photos was ?transformative? or reasonable in relation to @CallMeMoneyBag?s purpose in posting the tweets. See, e.g., In re DMCA, 441 F. Supp. 3d at 884-85 (concluding that use of Jehovah?s Witness?s copyrighted materials was ?transformative? given undisputed evidence that speaker used materials ?for criticism and commentary in a manner fundamentally at odds with [the organization?s] original purpose,? placed materials ?on a forum expressly dedicated to criticism of [the organization] by former members, succeeded in generating a number of comments? from other critics of the organization, ?and declared that his sole purpose was to criticize the organization and spark discussion about it?).

Based on that lack of appearance, the court says that the “putative infringer has not met its burden of establishing fair use for the purpose of quashing the subpoena.” And thus, Twitter must reveal who is behind the account.

This seems not just wrong on multiple levels, but dangerous. It means that the very wealthy can abuse copyright law to out anonymous critics in lots of cases, especially if those anonymous critics can’t pay an expensive lawyer to explain the very basics of fair use to a court. The burden shifting here seems really, really wrong. It’s an unfortunate result, and shows yet another way that copyright is used as a censorship tool to stifle and suppress criticism.

It’s still not clear who is behind Bayside or exactly why they’re doing this, but rest assured that this kind of abuse of copyright to intimidate and suppress criticism will not go unnoticed by others wealthy enough to abuse the law in similar ways.

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Companies: bayside advisory, twitter

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Comments on “Court Orders Twitter Reveal Anonymous Tweeter Over Sketchy Copyright Claim, Because That Tweeter Won't Show Up In Court”

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39 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

It’s an unfortunate result, and shows yet another way that copyright is used as a censorship tool to stifle and suppress criticism.

At this point, I’d like to ask our usual troll brigade⁠—assuming they’re not still in winter hibernation, that is⁠—to defend this usage of copyright law.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anon says:

Re: What's missing

What’s missing is an analysis of whether the LLC honestly owns the copyright to the photos. One would expect to see the provenance of the photos, the photographer, and the process of making and registering them; if in fact they did not take the photos and did not buy the rights (presumably for the exact images claimed as infringing) that would be a fraud on the court, and no lawyer would stoop to that…

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"These days they don’t show up on articles featuring copyright behaving badly unless they’re absolutely certain no one will reply to their attempts to get the last word."

Huh. Means they’ve finally managed to learn something.

Granted, after ten years or more worth of having every one of their insane assertions countered by dozens of saner people, factual reality, and in some cases, their own incoherent arguments I just wish they’d learned a better lesson than just "Never assert anything where anyone could respond".

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
AricTheRed says:

Re: Re: Friday deep thoughts

As a legal entity my self that routinely posits A or B choices, their infringement of my post-post copyright on A. or B. choices is really buggin!

@Samuel Abram I’d like to join you in your suit against this so called Anonymous Coward & find out who they really are.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Friday deep thoughts

Who’s claiming everyone already has it? Usually I can tell where you idiots are getting your talking points from but that’s the first time I’ve heard anyone claim that.

Hey, at least your off-topic drooling isn’t just a regurgitation of stuff that was debunked a year ago, which is an improvement I guess.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Stop living in fear!' said the person cowering in terror

As arguments go it’s a pretty funny one since to the extent that people are ‘living in fear’ it’s largely due to the pro-plague assholes who are so terrified of needles and/or so self-centered that they can’t be bothered to take a few shots keeping the pandemic alive and well.

So terrified of a non-existent threat that they keep a very real, very deadly one active, talk about an own-goal of an argument.

RP says:

Re: The "Appeal"

On January 7, filed a motion for reconsideration of the order and asking for a new judge. They listed five main points of disagreement with the order by the Magistrate Judge:

  1. The Magistrate Judge erred in issuing an order on a dispositive matter instead of a Report and Recommendation.
  2. The Magistrate Judge erred in holding that the burden of establishing fair use in this context is on the anonymous user targeted by the subpoena at issue.
  3. The Magistrate Judge erred in failing to recognize that the anonymous user’s Tweets constituted fair use.
  4. The Magistrate Judge erred in holding that it could not engage in the balancing of harms required by the prevailing First Amendment standard without evidence submitted by @CallMeMoneyBags.
  5. The Magistrate Judge erred in its balancing of harms required by the prevailing First Amendment standard.

In re DMCA § 512(h) Subpoena to Twitter, Inc. (4:20-mc-80214), Docket 22

On January 11, the same Magistrate Judge who signed the December 29 order agreed to the reassignment and rehearing.
Docket 23

And now there is a call for additional amici briefs as the schedule for going forward is as follows:

• February 18, 2022 – Amicus briefs in support of Twitter due;
• March 11, 2022 – Bayside’s response / opposition due;
• April 4, 2022 – Amicus briefs in support of Bayside or amicus briefs that do not support either party due;
• April 25, 2022 – Twitter’s reply due;
• May 12, 2022 – Hearing.

Docket 26

RP says:

Re: Re: The "Appeal"

For its part, Bayside never articulated any harm it would suffer should the subpoena be quashed. It has offered no facts (evidenced or otherwise) about who Bayside is, what Bayside does, the impact of these alleged infringements on whatever business it is that Bayside conducts, or the importance of pursuing a copyright claim against an anonymous account on Twitter that, until this litigation, had only a few hundred followers. Twitter suggests that Bayside’s silence here is telling. As Twitter articulates above, this subpoena is not a mere steppingstone on the path to an infringement action. The subpoena is itself an end, sending a message to would-be critics that mocking Brian Sheth is a costly endeavor.

From Docket 22.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Penny Trative Investigations LLC says:

Re: Who owns the copyright?

"Why do I get the feeling that Bayside doesn’t actually own the copyright and registered it just to see if someone would come forward to claim otherwise"

Agreed. Nothing less than a full forensic analysis of Bayside will do. Preferably the type that results in leaving a Martian landscape afterwards.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Lovely double-standards there

A company that is almost certainly run by or connected to the ‘poor besmirched’ rich goon is allowed to continue on without saying who exactly is pulling their strings, something which strikes me as very relevant, but the accused infringer has to be outed because they didn’t lawyer up or couldn’t afford to.

Ah copyright law wielded by idiot and/or corrupt judges, you so constantly provide evidence for why neither of you deserve any respect at all.

William Null says:

Another week...

…another reason to abolish copyright. That being said, it would be interesting to see what info does Twitter actually have on their users, assuming the user in question wasn’t posting under their actual legal name. For example, do they have anything more than their IP address (which leads nowhere) and maybe phone number for 2FA (which may be a prepaid and as such also lead nowhere).

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Another week...

Well thats the thing…
You no longer can start an account without giving them a cell phone number & wackjobs, like me, believe that they’ve been doing "ooppsie" timeouts where its just faster to give them the cell phone number & serve a short timeout rather than to wait for support to actually review the questionable timeout to get the numbers from older users.
Then one would have to real a buncha TOS to see what info Apple or Google (or whatever other platforms you can use to create an account) gives to Twitter and what Twitter provides them with.
Of course none of the services is ever very straight forward with what information they share with their ‘partners’ and what information goes in each direction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Internet = company has the information. To track down to another company that also naturally has the information. Everyone claiming they defend privacy while they maintain all that information forever, so they can give it away to the first guy who cares to buy a court. Computers are inherently fascist and everything else is LIES. Always has been.

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