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Oil Industry Group Claims Copyright On Oil Pricing Data, Gets Twitter To Delete Tweets

The American Petroleum Institute (API), a group that represents the oil industry, apparently releases a fee-based report on oil prices, which is released to paying subscribers a week before the US government releases "official" data. For obvious reasons, this information is fairly valuable to traders, who are more than willing to pay the monthly fee to get early access to some crucial information on the price of oil. Apparently, last week, some people then took that data, and tweeted about it... leading API to issue DMCA takedown notices, which Twitter promptly complied with.
On Tuesday, several accounts posted the API data shortly after it was released to subscribers at 4.30 p.m. EDT. The posts were widely shared across the social network. Prices extended their losses shortly after the report, which showed a larger-than-expected increase in weekly inventories.

An account named @Cornice_Trading posted the data along with a message saying, "I don't have a sub, whatchugonnado API?!?" Through Wednesday afternoon, it had been retweeted five times and had received six likes.

[....]

The accounts named by API in its complaint to Twitter include oil traders and the popular financial commentary account @zerohedge, which has more than 300,000 followers. Two tweets by @zerohedge have been removed by Twitter in recent weeks. Zerohedge, which also runs a popular website, received notices from both the social network and from API, according to a spokesman for the website.
The article notes that, in the DMCA takedown letter sent by API, the group's lawyers claimed: "The posted excerpts contain the most important content of the WSB and is the heart of the work that API has created." This is, quite clearly, an attempt to pre-empt any fair use claim. Claiming that "the heart of the work" was included is based on the infamous Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises case about publishing excerpts of former President Gerald Ford's memoir.

But that's meaningless if it's true that the information published was just factual data about oil prices. The Supreme Court decision in Feist v. Rural Telephone makes it clear that purely factual data gets no copyright protection at all. So if the data that is "at the heart" of what API released is nothing more than aggregated factual data, then it could not be deemed to have the minimum amount of "original creativity" included, and thus is not covered by copyright.

Even beyond that, if the information was covered by copyright, there still seems to be a strong fair use argument as well. But either way, Twitter simply decided to take those tweets down. The company claimed that it "has" to do that when it receives a valid DMCA notice, but that's not true. This is a constant misrepresentation of the DMCA. It just says that to retain the safe harbors, that say you're not liable, you need to take the content down. And, yes, while many risk averse lawyers will insist those two things are the same, because no company wants to give up its safe harbors, many companies can and do reject such bogus DMCA notices, recognizing that if the notices are bogus and the content is not infringing, then they'll be safe whether or not they have the safe harbors.

posted by Matt Manning on March 21, 2016