Twitter faces own precedent in GitHub source-code leak case
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Elon Musk and Twitter

This illustration photo taken on July 8, 2022, shows Elon Musk’s Twitter page displayed on the screen of a smartphone with the Twitter logo in the background in Los Angeles. (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Some four months before Elon Musk officially took over as CEO, Twitter scored a victory in a case involving a private-equity billionaire and one of its anonymous users. That precedent could spell defeat for Twitter’s current legal efforts to find out who leaked its source code to GitHub, a media law expert told Law&Crime.

The case involved a then-unknown Twitter user going by the handle @CallMeMoneyBags, who — as the name suggested — poked fun at wealthy people in tech, finance or politics, such as Jeff Bezos, Nancy Pelosi and Musk. The legal wrangling started when the account turned its attention to billionaire financier Brian Sheth.

Some of the tweets at issue have since been removed but remain summarized in a court order.

“Over ten days, MoneyBags tweeted about Sheth six times, each time commenting on Sheth’s wealth and alleged lifestyle,” the 15-page order states. “One tweet, for example, reads: ‘Brian Sheth has upgraded in his personal life. The only thing better than having a wife . . . is having a hot young girlfriend.’ The tweet was accompanied by hashtags including ‘#FilthyRich’ and ‘#BabeAlert’ and included a photograph of a woman in a bikini and high heels. The other tweets were similar, each containing a photo of a woman and many alluding to an extramarital affair between her and Sheth.”

A shadowy company soon sprang into action.

“Within a few weeks of the postings, a mysterious entity called Bayside Advisory LLC registered copyrights in the photos, petitioned Twitter to take them down, and served a subpoena on Twitter for information identifying the person behind the @CallMeMoneyBags account,” recounted U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, from the Northern District of California.

Chhabria’s ruling established a precedent that an “unmasking” subpoena can be quashed where “revealing the user’s identity would violate his First Amendment rights.”

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