Sunday, March 13, 2011

Images on Twitter – Extent of Copyright Protection

Agence France Presse v. Morel, a case that is currently in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, is all about social media. In particular, it is about Twitter and the extent of copyright ownership to the images that get posted and re-posted on Twitter through Twitpic. The case involves a photojournalist Morel who was one of the first to take pictures of the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti and post them to his Twitpic account. The issue before the Court was whether Morel was due compensation and attribution for the use by major news organizations of the photographs he posted on Twitpic.

I assume you know how Twitter works: an account user can tweet a short message. The goal is to get “re-tweeted” as many times as possible. Copyright to all content on Tweeter is retained by authors, but Tweeter has a license to use, alter and distribute the content. A related service that allows the tweeting, or sharing of images through links on Tweeter, is called Twitpic. Like on Tweeter, the image creators also retain the copyright to the images and grant Twitpic a license to use and distribute the photos on Twitpic.com and affiliated sites. It means that the links to the photos on Twitpic can be re-tweeted and this would not be a copyright infringement. The question is how far can the images be distributed and what it means for the copyright holder. The Court’s decision to deny the motion to dismiss on the copyright infringement claims by Morel shows that copyright protection depends on the terms of use and the Court’s interpretation of this (sometimes) hard-to-understand boilerplate type of agreement that users agree to (but most typically skip) when they first create an account on the site. The main advice for all users of social media is to read and understand the terms of use of each site, because this is what governs their intellectual property rights.

If you want to read the Court’s decision, you can find it here: http://dockets.justia.com/docket/new-york/nysdce/1:2010cv02730/360858/. This recent publication by Stephen Kramarsky of Dewey Pegno Kramarsky LLP provides a good summary of the case: http://www.dpklaw.com/c/publications/#post-466.

This article is not a legal advice, and was written for general informational purposes only.  If you have questions or comments about the article or are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to contact its author, Arina Shulga.  Ms. Shulga is the founder of Shulga Law Firm, P.C., a New York-based boutique law firm specializing in advising individual and corporate clients on aspects of business, corporate, securities, and intellectual property law.

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