A group of 17 music publishers sued Twitter on Wednesday, accusing it of copyright infringement on about 1,700 songs, and is seeking as much as $250 million in damages, the latest headache for the social media platform owned by Elon Musk.
The publishers filed the suit in Federal District Court in Nashville, saying Twitter violated copyright law by allowing users to post music to the platform without permission. Negotiations between Twitter and the music industry to put broad licensing agreements into place had broken down months ago.
“Twitter stands alone as the largest social media platform that has completely refused to license the millions of songs on its service,” David Israelite, the president of the National Music Publishers’ Association, a trade group, said in a statement.
Twitter and Mr. Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The suit detailed what the publishers say is Twitter’s failure to police rampant infringement of music copyrights on the service. It pointed to specific tweets in which music has been used without permission, including a post about Rihanna’s song “Umbrella” that included what the suit said is two minutes of the song’s music video. The post had 221,000 views and 15,000 likes, the suit said, but not the permission of the song’s publishers.
The suit asked for statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each of nearly 1,700 infringed works, for a total of about $250 million.
Music publishers represent the copyrights for songwriting and composition, which are separate from the copyrights for recordings.
The suit also documents the music publishers’ attempts to notify Twitter about infringement through the protocol outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 law that protects internet service providers when users post copyrighted materials, but outlines a series of guidelines for how they can be taken down.
According to the suit, the National Music Publishers’ Association notified Twitter of about 300,000 tweets with infringing music since December 2021. The company routinely delayed or failed to act on those notices, the suit said.
Twitter had been in negotiations for licensing rights with the three major music labels — Universal, Sony and Warner — since 2021, though the talks stalled after Mr. Musk’s $44 billion takeover of the company in October. Deals for music rights, which require social media companies to compensate publishers and record labels when users post or play content with songs, can cost well over $100 million a year.
Since buying Twitter, Mr. Musk has slashed costs by laying off workers, skipping rent payments and avoiding paying bills to various vendors. Advertising revenue has declined and the company faces billions of dollars in debt payments from Mr. Musk’s acquisition. Mr. Musk has said Twitter was on the path to bankruptcy.
The suit tries to use Mr. Musk’s own words against him. It cited a series of his tweets in which he said current copyright law “goes absurdly far beyond protecting the original creator.” He added, “Overzealous DMCA is a plague on humanity.”