New Delhi: In the first instance of a Union Minister being blocked, Twitter on Friday briefly blocked IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad from accessing his account, ratcheting up tensions with the government as it came under renewed attack for not following local laws.
Twitter denied Prasad access to his account '@rsprasad' for almost an hour on the grounds that he violated the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but the minister said the microblogging platform violated new IT rules that require intermediary or a host of user content to give prior notice before locking access.
The IT Minister called out Twitter over the brazen arbitrariness and running its "own agenda".
The DMCA notice purportedly involved a 2017 tweet by Prasad. Twitter said it has restored the access, but withheld the tweet in reference.
Soon after Prasad flagged the issue, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted that he too had faced something similar.
"Raviji, the same thing just happened to me. Clearly DMCA is getting hyperactive. This tweet has been deleted by @Twitter because its video includes the copyrighted BoneyM song `Rasputin'," Tharoor tweeted.
Tharoor further said: "As Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, I can state that we will be seeking an explanation from @TwitterIndia for the locking of @rsprasad's & my accounts & the rules & procedures they follow while operating in India".
Prasad lashed out at Twitter, and in a series of posts on rival social media platform Koo said it was apparent that his statements calling out the "high handedness and arbitrary actions" of Twitter, had ruffled feathers.
"Friends! Something highly peculiar happened today. Twitter denied access to my account for almost an hour on the alleged ground that there was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the USA and subsequently they allowed me to access the account," Prasad wrote. He also tweeted on the issue.
The temporary locking of the IT Minister's Twitter account comes at a time when the US digital giant has been engaged in a tussle with the Indian government over the new social media rules.
The government has slammed Twitter for deliberate defiance and failure to comply with the country's new IT rules, which has led to the microblogging platform losing its legal shield as an intermediary in India and becoming liable for users posting any unlawful content.
"It is apparent that my statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers," the minister said.
He went on to say that it is now obvious why Twitter is refusing to comply with the intermediary guidelines and added "because if Twitter does comply, it would be unable to arbitrarily deny access to an individual's account which does not suit their agenda".
Twitter's actions are in gross violation of the IT rules, where they failed to provide any prior notice before denying access to the account, the minister pointed out.
"Twitter's actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be but are only interested in running their own agenda, with the threat that if you do not toe the line they draw, they will arbitrarily remove you from their platform," Prasad said.
The minister made it clear that platforms will have to abide by the new IT rules fully and warned that there will be no compromise whatsoever.
In a statement, Twitter spokesperson, said, "We can confirm that the Honourable Minister's account access was temporarily restricted due to a DMCA notice only and the referenced Tweet has been withheld. Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorised representatives".
But IT Ministry sources claimed that it was obvious that Twitter was not comfortable with the minister's posts, criticising the platform for non-compliance with the IT Rules and hence it threatened the IT Minister by denying access to his account for about an hour for alleged violation of copyright law of the US.
The issue that further needs to be deliberated in this context is whether India should be guided by the US copyright laws or its own copyright laws, they argued.
The sources questioned how a multinational platform like Twitter, which proclaims itself as the flag bearer of free speech, can invoke American laws in India to curtail the free speech of a senior minister of the government.
Recounting the incident of Friday morning, the sources said that though the Twitter account of the Minister was visible for public viewing, Twitter did not permit anyone authorised to access this account to log in or make any post.
When the minister and his team tried to log in to the Twitter account @rsprasad, it displayed a message "Your account has been locked because Twitter received a compliant Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Notice for content posted to your Twitter account".
Under the DMCA copyright, owners can notify Twitter claiming that a user has infringed their copyrighted works, the message read.
"Upon receipt of a valid notice, Twitter will remove the identified material. Twitter maintains a repeat copyright infringer policy under which repeat infringer accounts will be suspended. Accruing multiple DMCA strikes may lead to suspension of your account," the message said.
About an hour later, Twitter unlocked access to the account by posting a warning message to the minister's account stating, "Your account is now available for use. Please be aware that any additional notices against your account may result in your account being locked again and potentially suspended".
It further said, "In order to avoid this, do not post additional material in violation of our Copyright Policy and immediately remove any material from your account for which you are not authorised to post".
According to Lumen database, the DMCA notice -- related to AR Rahman's song 'Maa Tujhe Salaam' -- was sent by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) on behalf of Sony Music Entertainment.
As per the Lumen database document, the DMCA notice was sent on May 24, 2021 and received by Twitter on June 25, 2021.
Lumen database is an independent research project studying cease and desist letters concerning online content, and requests received by Twitter for withholding content are published on its site.
Sources said a video paying tribute to the Indian Army on the anniversary of 1971 war victory was posted where the song composed by Rahman was used as background music.
It is pertinent to mention here that Twitter has not fully complied with the new rules, called intermediary Guidelines, that mandate setting up a grievance redressal mechanism and appointing officers to coordinate with law enforcement.
The rules became effective from May 26 and Twitter, even after the expiry of the additional time, had not appointed the requisite officers, leading to it losing the 'safe harbour' immunity.
Twitter and the government have been at loggerheads over multiple instances in the past months, including during the farmers' protest and later when the microblogging platform tagged political posts of several leaders of the ruling party BJP as "manipulated media", triggering a sharp rebuke from the Centre.