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Elon Musk's X escapes much of lawsuit over copyrighted songs

FILE PHOTO: Tesla CEO and X owner Elon Musk in Paris

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) -X, the social media platform owned by Elon Musk, on Tuesday won the dismissal of most of a lawsuit by 17 music publishers that accused it of infringing copyrights on nearly 1,700 songs by letting people post music online without permission.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger in Nashville, Tennessee said the publishers could not pursue a theory of "comprehensive general liability for infringement" against X, which Musk bought for $44 billion in Oct. 2022.

She dismissed two infringement claims, and dismissed a third claim for "contributory" infringement except for accusations that X did not properly police "verified" users and serial infringers, and failed to act on takedown notices fast enough.

Sony Music, Universal Music and other members of the National Music Publishers' Association trade group had sued X last June, seeking more than $250 million of damages.

In a statement, the trade group said it was pleased that the judge let it pursue its remaining claim.

"The spread of rampant music piracy on the platform is obvious and unacceptable, and we look forward to securing just compensation for the songwriters and music publishers whose work is being stolen," the group said.

Alex Spiro, a lawyer for X, declined to comment.

Publishers accused X of routinely ignoring and encouraging copyright infringement, giving it a leg up on platforms such as Meta Platforms' Facebook, Google's YouTube and ByteDance's TikTok that properly license music.

The publishers also said the problem had gotten worse since Musk bought Twitter.

In her 21-page decision, Trauger said X was not liable for direct infringement, reflecting the distinction in federal copyright law between active participants in infringement, and parties such as X that merely provide a platform for it.

She also said X was not liable for "vicarious" infringement, saying it was not responsible to police how posts were drafted or obtain copyright permission in advance.

"X Corp undoubtedly had some power over X/Twitter's users -the way that a company that provides a valued service always has power over the customers who rely on it - but that does not turn customers into even loose equivalents of agents or subordinates," Trauger wrote.

Music publishers represent copyrights for songwriters, not for songs themselves.

The case is Concord Music Group Inc et al v X Corp, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, No. 23-00606.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Stephen Coates and David Gregorio)