Ravi Shankar Prasad locked out of his Twitter account- violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act : explained

Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and Law, was locked out of his Twitter account for an hour.

He was locked out over a notice when someone filed a complaint about violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act  (DMCA). Twitter and the union government have been going at each other’s throats for some time now. This ‘locking out of his account’ can be seen as a retaliatory statement from Twitter- interpretations can always vary.  

Let’s dwell into the legal and technical aspects of DMCA, WIPO-

What is WIPO?

World Intellectual Property Organisation is a specialised agency of the United Nations established under the convention of 1967 to foster security to intellectual properties across the world. Cooperating countries and international organisations would give the security. WIPO came into the picture and started working on 26thApril 1970.

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The main work of WIPO is to discuss host forums, directing international IP rules and policies, providing services globally to protect IP in different countries, solving transboundary disputes on IP, helping connect IP systems through similar standards and infrastructure and overseeing everything on the IP database on all matters. WIPO also publishes reports and statistics on the state of intellectual property protection, global innovation and specific countries. WIPO works with non-governmental organisations, NGOs, state governments and other individuals who work with intellectual property for social and economic development.

WITO handles administration of 26 international deals regarding intellectual property and other issues such as protection of broadcast establish a classification. The UNGA and coordination committee set policies of WIPO in motion and serve as decision-making bodies.

WIPO‘s predecessor BIRPI was not loaded with powers that would foster the complex task of transferring technology and promoting economic development. WIPO has the powers and necessary mechanisms in place to do that. WIPO’s economic and statistics division surveys and collect data from all over the world to gather insight into how government intellectual property and innovation policies affect business performances.

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What is DMCA?

Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a copyright law of the United States which was signed in 1998. It was passed unanimously in the United States Senate and signed by Bill Clinton. It implements treaties of world intellectual property organisation – it criminalises broadcast and manufacturing of technology, services or devices which reduce access control or increase access of a place or resources to copyrighted works. This is commonly known as digital rights management. It also criminalises the act of reducing access control to content irrespective of infringement of copyright. Apart from criminalising the DMCA also penalises for copyright infringement on the internet.

The copyright act was introduced by US Senate at the time when the internet began seeping into the lives of people during the 1990s.

The amendment reduced the liability of online service providers for copyright infringement by users. The innovative principle of DMCA is exemption from liability of internet service providers and intermediaries. The European Union adopted this exemption in 2000. This innovation is now at crossroads with the union government, which recently amended the IT intermediaries act. The present amendment will penalise internet service providers and intermediaries if proscribed content is posted or not taken down within 24 hours on order of the government.

What is the significance of DMCA?

The DMCA is hated by librarians, professors, researchers, and computer users because of its overreaching nature. The DMCA law prevents any activity which tries to circumvent the law by cracking encryption codes on restricted content or the content which has copyrights on it. Further articles under the act also specify that any manufacture, sale or trade of a device and software which circumvents the law by breaking encryption codes on restricted content will be penalised. Copyright violation isn’t a crime anymore, the sale or manufacture of the devices, software tech tools that violate the act is.

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The DMCA also helps in enforcing the WIPO copyright treaty and the WIPO Performance and phonograms treaty. Both these treaties require that members and signatories protect intellectual properties in their area, which are manufactured by non-citizens. If a country, let’s say India- if intellectual property is made by a citizen of the United Kingdom who is also a signatory to the treaty, protection to the intellectual property would be provided similarly as it would to an intellectual property made by an Indian citizen.

What is intellectual property according to WIPO?

Intellectual property can be any creation of the mind ranging from art, music, painting, software, patent, inventions, trademarks, commercial science, lyrics, books, et cetera. In a world full of digital technology and virtual working, copyrights become an important part of the business. There are five types of intellectual properties known as

  • Copyrights
  • Trademarks
  • Patents
  • Trade dress
  • Trade secret

Copyright includes expressing an idea into original works without copying others. It can consist of novels, poems, music, songs, architectural designs, choreography, graphics et cetera.

Trademarks are the identity of a business or entrepreneur for services and products provided. A trademark distinguishes between two business and services. A trademark includes logos, brand name, symbols, short phrases, slogans et cetera.

Patents are government-issued protection by USPTO so that an inventor can publicly disclose his invention for a particular period. Patents are acquired on machines, manufactured items, industry processes, computer processes, chemical compositions et cetera.

Trade dress is the visual or overall appearance and features of a product. It can be a unique shape of the bottle or a unique colour combination that differentiates between similar products.

Trade secrets are designs, formulas, methods, instruments, protocols, processes, recipes, patterns, tools et cetera. Such processes provide a business competitive advantage over others. The life and well-being of any business depend on these trade secrets; hence it is necessary to develop the rules so the secrets or not leaked to the competitors.

Why is Twitter locking horns with the Union government?

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Twitter came into the bad books of the government when it refused to take down false information tweets about farmer genocide during farmers protests as per government order. After a lot of protest and drama the safe harbour provisions under section 79 of the IT Act will not apply to Twitter because it failed to comply with guidelines provided by the government. Twitter was unable to appoint statutory officers who would comply with government orders.

Why was Ravi Shankar Prasad locked out of his Twitter account?

Prasad was locked out because Twitter felt he violated intellectual property act, but after an hour he was allowed to use it. There were no questions asked or no explanations given, which state that this may either be a genuine fault on Twitter’s site or a deliberate move.

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter provide the facility where content creators can approach the intermediaries with proof that they are the original creators of the content. These intermediaries operate in nations who have signed the WIPO agreement, because of which they have to remove the said content if a valid and legal DMCA notice is issued.

These platforms also give an opportunity to the other user to prove that he intended no harm or he mistakenly uploaded the content – he is given a chance to reply by filing a counter-notice. After which, the intermediary decides who is telling the truth and whose content should prevail, what content to take down or hide  et cetera. To file a complaint by user can approach the DMCA website or the social media intermediary on which content has been hosted. A team of experts analyse this request against a certain fee.






Aishwarya Ingle

I am a person who believes in freedom of human mind. A free mind is highly creative and imaginative. Imagination is not a cloth that is to neatly folded in a box, but it is fire. It can light an entire jungle or a single matchstick, it depends upon the free environment.

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