Court Temporarily Protects PeopleBrowsr Access To Twitter Firehose, Twitter Says It Will ‘Vigorously Defend’ Itself

PeopleBrowsr, the maker of social analytics tools such as Kred, has won a temporary restraining order against Twitter, allowing the company to maintain full access to Twitter’s firehose of data.

The victory for PeopleBrowsr is short-term, but it does mean that the company won’t be cut off on November 30, which is what PeopleBrowsr says Twitter was threatening. Temporary restraining orders are usually granted until the court is ready to decide on a preliminary injunction (which would last until the case is decided). The hearing to discuss the injunction is scheduled for January 8.

A Twitter spokesperson sent me the following statement: “We believe the case is without merit and will vigorously defend against it.”

PeopleBrowsr sent me a number of court filings related to the case, but the most relevant and comprehensive appears to be its full complaint against Twitter, in which the company says it’s seeking “a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent Twitter from destroying its business, interfering with PeopleBrowsr’s contractual and prospective business relations, and restraining competition in markets using Twitter data.”

Twitter has faced plenty of criticism over its relationship with partners and developers, most recently over changes to its API. This case doesn’t appear to be related to those changes, but in both its press release and its complaint, PeopleBrowsr positions the dispute as part of the ongoing debate over Twitter’s openness. From the complaint:

Twitter has engaged in a pattern and practice of converting downstream Twitter markets from open ecosystems to tightly controlled markets. It is now using its control over its data to take over the Twitter Big Data Analytics market. By denying competitors access to the Firehose and forcing them to obtain data from its partners DataSift and Gnip, who are authorized only to provide a fraction of Twitter’s data, Twitter is ensuring that it and a few closely controlled partners will be the only providers with sufficient data access to compete.

PeopleBrowsr says that it has had a four-year relationship with Twitter and that it pays more than $1 million a year for access to the firehose. According to the complaint, Twitter first stated at the beginning of 2011 that it was interested in restricting firehose access to “a limited number of ‘Twitter-driven’ partnerships that it can control.” Then in May 2012, Twitter reportedly told PeopleBrowsr it “should plan to transition off the full Firehose feed” and “seek access to a portion of the Firehose through Gnip or DataSift,” because PeopleBrowsr was “no longer a strategic ‘fit’ for Twitter.” However, PeopleBrowsr argues that it needs full firehouse access for its products.

The complaint also acknowledges that PeopleBrowsr’s contract with Twitter included a 30-day termination provision, but PeopleBrowsr says it “understood that the provision would be exercised consistently with Twitter’s obligation to provide an open ecosystem.”

You can read the full complaint below, but PeopleBrowsr’s legal case seems to boil down to an argument that it could reasonably expect Twitter to stay “open” (whatever that means) indefinitely. I don’t know how this case will turn out, but other startups have been doomed by that kind of belief in the past, and the courts haven’t saved them.

Update: Here’s the legal response from Twitter.

PB v Tw Complaint TRO 28 Nov 2012