of good luck with that department
While everyone is trying to read the tea leaves of what an Elon Musk-owned Twitter will actually look like, it has been reported that in his presentation to Wall St. Banks to secure the funding he needs to close the l deal, he suggested that the deal would be profitable due to some of his new business model ideas. Now obviously that’s entirely speculative, and I guess he hasn’t thought about all of this deeply (just as he hasn’t thought about the challenges of content moderation, although he’s sure he can solve it). But, at least some of the banks are buying into the deal based on Musk’s promise of stronger Twitter activity, so we have to pay attention to his ideas. Like this, this, uh, would effectively be impossible under the 1st Amendment.
Musk told the banks he also plans to develop features to boost business revenue, including new ways to make money from tweets that contain important information or go viral, the sources said.
Some of the ideas he mentioned include charging a fee when a third-party website wants to quote or embed a tweet from verified individuals or organizations.
So, like, I don’t want to throw cold water on the guy’s business model ideas that people keep telling me is the most brilliant and innovative entrepreneur of our generation, but …that… uh… seems at least one little ironic that he’s spent the last month shouting about ‘free speech’ and allowing everything the law allows… and now he wants charge companies for quoting a tweet.
Yeah, so thanks to the 1st Amendment (which he claims to support so much), he’s unlikely to be able to do that successfully. Quoting a tweet (we’ll cover embedding shortly) in almost all cases is going to be fair use under copyright law. And, one of the main reasons we have fair use in copyright law… is that the 1st Amendment requires itotherwise copyright law would stifle the very free expression that Musk claims to love so much.
In Eldred v. Ashcroft, the landmark (so ill-decided) case on the constitutionality of copyright term extension, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg repeatedly spoke about how fair use was a “safety” in copyright law to ensure that copyright law could exist under the 1st amendment, even though it could be used to suppress speech. The crux of the argument is that because there’s fair dealing that allows people to do things like quote a 240-character explosion, then there’s no serious concern about the silence of the copyright. ‘author. This point is often raised in the context of calling fair use a necessary safety valve on copyright to make it compatible with the 1st Amendment.
Given that Musk has asserted (incorrectly, but in reality it doesn’t matter) that free speech laws represent “the will of the people”, and his seemingly big business model innovation is to require that media organizations are paying to quote tweets, which violates our fair use rights, which are required under the 1st amendment…well, it seems his biggest business model idea so far is trying to ignoring the 1st Amendment rights of people wishing to quote tweets.
Good luck with that.
Additionally, under Twitter’s current terms of service, users own all copyright to their own tweets. Twitter has a license for this, but it wouldn’t allow Twitter as an entity to file copyright claims against any media organization that quoted tweets in the first place. The only way to do that is to change the terms entirely and require all of its users to assign their copyrights to Twitter and, well, good luck with that as well.
Now, of course, the report claimed that fees could be charged if anyone “wanted to quote or integrate a tweet from verified individuals,” and the company could definitely set up a complicated system to try to get people to pay for the integration, but that would be (a) fucking boring for most others and (b ) would just lead to doing screenshots, instead of embedding, which is much less useful in the long run for Twitter, because it would get fewer people to interact with Twitter. And, again, fair use and (I think I have to remind you) the 1st amendment would protect all those screenshots and quotes. Freedom of speech, ftw!
And that’s not even getting into the idea that Twitter could now effectively sell its popular tweets to websites. I mean, if this plan were to go ahead (and somehow overcome all the other hurdles), I imagine the company would literally need to implicate its users in the deal and set up some kind of “every time the NY Times embeds your tweet, they pay us $5 and we give you $3 back” or some kind of nonsense like that. And, of course, it might excite some Twitter users that they could get paid for their tweets (again, assuming a third-party website ignores their fair use/1st amendment rights to simply quote or capture a screenshot and chooses to pay instead).
But, it would also probably create a whole world of complications. First, Twitter would have to implement a whole new type of operation to handle all of this. Musk also promised in those documents that he planned to downsize Twitter, but would need staff at least to handle payments and payouts to tweeters. But, again, it’s Elon Musk, so I’m guessing the system will run on the blockchain in Dogecoin and payments will happen automatically. And sure, maybe you could see how it could actually somehow work, if you’re into that sort of thing?
But, now we address the following problem: when you add money (even cute money based on dog memes) to a platform where people normally did shit for free, incentives change. Oh, boy, do they ever change. Suddenly you’re going to have crooks galore, looking to abuse the system, and get doge rich. I guess maybe this needs to be expressed as a meme?
And Elon should understand this better than anyone, given how often crypto scammers follow him and try to scam his fans. Presentation real money, even of the variety of memes, in the mix will lead to many scam behaviors. And it would probably help if the company had a… what’s it called… oh yeah, trust and security personnel to help think through these issues.
I will never kick anyone for experimenting with creative business model ideas. And I’m all for Twitter trying non-ad based business models, as Elon suggested, that’s part of their goal. That actually sounds like a good idea. But it’s a bit weird when this whole deal is predicated on bringing more “free speech” to the site…and his first business model suggestion in trying to get banks to support him is to ignore privacy rights other people’s freedom of expression and trying to force them to pay up.
Filed Under: 1st Amendment, business model, elon musk, fair use, free speech, payments, quotes, backup, safety valve, security