Twitter and other social media platforms are the key things that made the world as connected as it is today. That made people’s lives more convenient. However, social media also has flaws. People can misuse it to harm others.
Twitter had to fight a bizarre legal fight because of how a person used the platform. Meanwhile, the other party wanted to abuse the law to get back to them. There may be some lessons in this story. So let us look into it.
@CallMeMoneyBags and Brian Seth
A Twitter user with the handle “@CallMeMoneyBags” is the focus of this story. They put out many tweets making fun of people in the equity space. That includes Brian Sheth, the co-founder of the high-flying Vista Equity Partners. He is another key character in this interesting story.
Sheth left Vista two years ago in a high-profile exit. That was after his co-founder Robert Smith entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the DOJ. Smith also agreed to pay $139 million and “abandon” $182 million in deductions. These are related to tax fraud.
Forbes reported that Sheth claims he sought to make Smith leave the company after the revelation. However, Smith “prevailed,” so Sheth left.
Nothing in what’s stated above made Sheth look bad. But here’s where Money Bags enters the scene. About the same time Sheth left the company, Money Bags tweeted a few pictures of almost naked women. The anonymous Twitter user implied that the woman was Sheth’s mistress.
You can’t view the images on these tweets now. That is because of a copyright claim. Bayside Advisory LLC was responsible for making the copyright claim. This entity has no presence online. But it demands Twitter reveal the identity of Money Bags. It filed a DMCA 512(h) subpoena to Twitter.
That smells shady. Thus, Twitter’s move was to quash the subpoena. First, the standard for revealing the identity of an anonymous poster is high, and that is not met. Furthermore, it seems like Bayside Advisory is connected to Sheth, and they are using the law to get back to Money Bags.
Twitter VS. Bayside Advisory LLC – Round I
Twitter’s counsel investigated to prove that Bayside LLC, the photos, and Sheth are connected. But it is unsuccessful. It appears Bayside has not registered to conduct business in California. Furthermore, when you search for Bayside, all it would reveal is an Ohio estate holdings company. It has no connections to Sheth and does not seem to specialize in acquiring copyrights of candid photographs.
There has been a back and forth between Bayside and Twitter over whether the former can know Money Bags’ identity. Twitter says no, while Bayside says it has the right to that information. At the same time, Bayside insists it has no connection to Sheth. It claims to be a concerned copyright holder trying to police infringement.
Court Orders Twitter To Reveal Money Bag’s Identity
The magistrate judge in the first case demanded to hear from Money Bags to determine the fair use issue. So, they told Twitter to alert Money Bags to show up in court.
The problem is that @CallMeMoneyBags has been inactive since the date of the original subpoena. So, it is unclear if Twitter was able to contact them. Because Money Bags was a no-show in the court, the court ordered Twitter to reveal Money Bags’ information to Bayside.
Twitter Vs. Bayside Advisory LLC – Round II
Strongly believing something was wrong, Twitter asked the court to reconsider. Now, district court judge Vince Chhabria is in charge. He held a hearing last May, and from that, it instantly became clear that Chhabria understood what was happening.
Judge Chhabria kept asking Bayside’s lawyer why any of this made sense to them. He also tried to find out whether Bayside is leveraging judicial processes to harass one of Sheth’s critics.
Chhabria also asked the lawyer of the suspicious entity who he spoke to in the company. The lawyer tried not to answer at first, then eventually gave the last name. Moments later, they gave them the full name: Bert Kauffman.
The previous judge had confusion over fair use, but Chhabria did not have that problem. Bayside’s lawyer argued that they were in the business of licensing photos. That is a questionable argument. The company only registered the photos Money Bags used plus a few others. And it licensed them just before issuing the subpoena. Clearly, the entity exists only to find out who Money Bags is.
Chhabria was not putting up with that nonsense. So, during the hearing, he demanded Bayside’s lawyer pull out the company’s website. The judge pointed out that a crucial piece of information was missing. Neither contact information nor an apparent way to reach the company for licensing was present.
The judge made it clear that he wanted to quash the subpoena. He wanted to find out who was behind Bayside. Bayside’s lawyer then made an unexpected move. They said they would prefer the scenario where they quashed the subpoena over needing to defend who is behind Bayside.
A Victory For Twitter
About a month later, Judge Vince Chhabria quashed the subpoena. He said, “Bayside’s reading of the DMCA raises serious constitutional concerns.” He also detailed why Bayside’s arguments did not make sense.
Then, Chhabria countered what the magistrate judge and Bayside said. He said Money Bag’s decision not to show up in court did not take away their 1st Amendment Rights. Chabbria added that Money Bags’ presence would have been helpful but unnecessary.
Then, the court does a fair use four factors analysis. They leaned strongly in favor of fair use. And the court concluded that all of this is extremely sketchy.
It seems to be over now, as of this writing. Money Bags remains anonymous, but so is who is actually behind Bayside.
It may not be the final chapter of this story. If Bayside wants to push their luck, they can appeal to the 9th circuit.
Why Courts can Order Twitter to Reveal Anonymous Identities
When it comes to anonymous accounts on social media platforms like Twitter, there may be cases where a court orders the platform to reveal the identity of the person behind the account. This can happen for various reasons, such as if the anonymous user is accused of defamation, harassment, or other illegal activity.
Several steps must be taken for a court to force Twitter to reveal the identity behind an anonymous account. First, the person seeking to uncover the anonymous user’s identity must file a lawsuit against the anonymous user. This will typically involve serving a summons and complaint to the anonymous user through Twitter and filing the lawsuit in a court that has jurisdiction over the matter.
Once the lawsuit has been filed, the person seeking to uncover the anonymous user’s identity may request that Twitter disclose the information. This can be done through the discovery process, which allows both sides to request information and evidence from the other side.
If the person seeking to uncover the identity of the anonymous user can demonstrate to the court that they have a legitimate reason for doing so and that the information they are seeking is relevant to the case, the court may issue a subpoena to Twitter requiring the company to disclose the identity of the anonymous user.
It’s important to note that courts will generally only order Twitter to reveal the identity of an anonymous user if there is an excellent reason to do so. This means that the person seeking the information must be able to demonstrate that the anonymous user’s actions have caused them harm and that revealing the anonymous user’s identity is necessary to address that harm.
Yes, Twitter Will Defend Your Right to Stay Anonymous (short of a court order)
Twitter, like many social media platforms, values the right of its users to express themselves freely and anonymously if they so choose. There are a number of reasons why Twitter may try to defend the right of anonymous users to stay anonymous, including:
- Freedom of expression: Anonymous users may be more likely to speak out and share their thoughts and opinions without fear of retribution. This can foster a more open and diverse conversation on the platform.
- Privacy: Allowing users to remain anonymous can help protect their privacy, especially in cases where they may be sharing sensitive or personal information.
- Security: In some cases, anonymous users may risk harm if their identity is revealed. Allowing users to remain anonymous can help protect their safety and security.
- Trust: Anonymous users may be more likely to trust the platform if they know their identity will not be disclosed without their consent. This can help foster a sense of trust and community on the platform.
Overall, Twitter may try to defend the right of anonymous users to stay anonymous to create a more open, diverse, and trusting environment on the platform. This can help encourage the free exchange of ideas and promote the values of free expression and privacy.