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Elon Musk Takes a Stand in Controversial Disney Copyright Case

The copyright debate has recently been revived by a bill seeking to reduce the term of protection for original works.
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Elon Musk is predictably unpredictable. 

The whimsical CEO of Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc. Report  is never where you expect him to be. 

When a large number of CEOs do everything to avoid being in the spotlight, he embraces them. He is not afraid to provoke controversy by sometimes making thunderous statements, or to take positions that he knows will irritate his detractors. 

That's all Elon Musk. 

The serial entrepreneur -- he is involved in four prominent companies (Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company and Neuralink) and is in the process of acquiring a fifth (Twitter  (TWTR) - Get Twitter Inc. Report) -- now sees himself as a global CEO whose responsibility is to talk on a large number of burning issues of our time.

For some time now, Musk has been on pretty much everything: the Russian invasion of Ukraine, antidepressants, Japan's declining population, wokism, politics, and more. He has, however, remained mum on abortion despite the revelation by Politico.com of a draft from the Supreme Court showing that a majority opinion had voted to overturn the Roe v. Wade law legalizing abortion. The billionaire must probably wait for the decision to be official before weighing in on this highly sensitive subject. 

In the meantime, the richest man in the world has just taken a stand in the very controversial debate on the protection of authors' and creators' rights and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which addresses the issues between copyright and the internet. 

'Overzealous'

"Current copyright law in general goes absurdly far beyond protecting the original creator," Musk tweeted on May 12, commenting on a Slashdot story indicating that U.S. senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo) had just introduced a bill to strip Disney of special copyright protections.

He added that: "Overzealous DMCA is a plague on humanity."

Hawley's bill reduces the term of protection for original works to a maximum of 56 years instead of 120 years as is currently the case. This bill appears as a kind of punishment against Disney after the group recently took a stand against the "Don't Say Gay" law in Florida. The change will also be retroactive.

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"The age of Republican handouts to Big Business is over," Hawley said in a statement. "Thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists. It’s time to take away Disney’s special privileges and open up a new era of creativity and innovation.”

Musk's tweets suggest he supports the bill or is, at the very least, in favor of reducing copyright terms.

There is, however, an important distinction between copyright and the DMCA.

By Owning Twitter, Musk Would Have to Comply with Online Protections

The DMCA extends a safe harbor to providers of online services or network access. For example, if a user uploads a copyrighted video to YouTube, places a copyrighted file on Dropbox, and shares links publicly, or simply hosts a copyright infringing website with a web hosting provider, the service provider -- YouTube,  Dropbox or the web host-- is exonerated from any responsibility. In other words, the DMCA provides protections to websites like YouTube, preventing them from being sued simply for hosting copyrighted content uploaded by a user.

The DMCA also allows anyone to file a notice with a service provider asking them to remove a copyrighted content if it infringes its copyright. If they don't remove the content promptly, they may be liable for damages if sued.

Musk's stance on the DMCA is not disinterested. If the billionaire finalizes the acquisition of Twitter, currently on hold, he will have to comply with this law as the new owner. 

In the past, the microblogging website has received numerous DMCA-related removal requests. In 2021, Twitter saw a 6% increase in DMCA takedown notices submitted, and a 17% increase in accounts affected, according to its Transparency report published in January. Tweets withheld dropped by 49% while media withheld increased by 18%, the company said.

The report, which covers the period between January and June 2021, indicates that the social network and Periscope, Twitter's streaming app that was discontinued in March 2021, received a total of 179,400 takedown notices for 799,400 affected accounts. The compliance rate was 33.2%. Basically, in the majority of cases Twitter did not take down the content.

"We do not withhold content in response to DMCA takedown notices that are incomplete, do not concern copyright issues, or that we determine to be fraudulent," Twitter said.

"We carefully review each notice, and follow up with the reporter as appropriate. In addition, there may be certain uses of copyrighted material that do not require the copyright owner’s permission, such as political speech, content that is potentially newsworthy, or cases of apparent fair use."