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Can Elon Musk Afford to Break the Law?

Elon Musk's Twitter profile
By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

Elon Musk's already close tango with the law has turned even more contentious since he bought Twitter (for way too much money). A lot of ink has been spilled chronicling the difficulties he and Twitter have been experiencing since his takeover of the site. It's left a lot of us, including legal experts, scratching our heads and asking, "can he do that?"

It can be hard to keep up with all the shenanigans of the Wealthiest Person in the World, so here's a quick overview of the outstanding legal problems he's racked up since he took over the Twitterverse. 

Severance, Shmeverance

One of the first things Musk did at Twitter was cutting most of its staff. Over 5,000 of the firm's approximately 7,500 employees were shown the door after the billionaire took over. American labor law currently provides almost no protections against this kind of thing, so Musk's abrupt layoffs weren't inherently illegal. But it looks like he still screwed up in the process.

A class action suit was filed in San Francisco federal court in mid-July on the behalf of thousands of former Twitter employees. According to the plaintiffs, Musk hadn't just refused to pay some $500 million in severance that the employees were owed as per their employment contracts with Twitter — he had also broken federal law by doing so.

But former employees aren't the only ones getting short-changed by Musk; outside companies are, too.

Bills, Shmills

The new boss has adopted an effective tact to cut costs at Twitter: refusing to pay the bills. This seems to be a strategy employed by other famous rich people, so maybe it's not all that surprising that Musk would do the same.

According to publicly available information, Musk has directed Twitter to:

  • stop rent payments on office spaces in multiple countries;
  • refuse to repay travel expenses incurred by Twitter leadership and employees; and
  • refuse to process at least 891 arbitration cases filed by former staffers.

Guess that's how the rich stay rich.

A group of 17 music publishers filed suit against Twitter in June 2023, alleging that the platform had violated copyright law by letting users post copyrighted songs without permission. The suit alleges that Twitter infringed on the copyright of about 1,700 songs and is seeking statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each song, totaling up to $250 million in damages.

Where many social media platforms have agreements in place to compensate publishers when users post copyrighted songs, Musk apparently doesn't feel the need to follow the rules. Talks with the three major music labels fell apart shortly after Musk took over Twitter, and the company has evidently ignored the 300,000 problematic posts that the publishers sent their way.

All in all, things have gotten legally heated since Musk came in and shook things up at Twitter. The survival of the platform seems a lot less certain than it did a year ago, but who knows? Maybe Musk's mass layoffs, refusal to pay his bills or his workers, and using AI to change the Twitter algorithm will work out in the long run. For now, we hope he's retained good counsel. 

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