Twitter and Copyrights of Photos

Through Twitter agencies made claim to license of photographed material and subsequently sold the photographs under their credit.

If you post a picture on Twitter is it considered for public domain use or does it retrain the rights granted under the U.S. Copyright?  A photographer placed photographs on Twitpic under his username “photomorel” immediately after the Haiti earthquake in Port au Prince.  The photographs were picked up and used by CBS, CNN, Getty Image, ABC, AFP for news reports on television.

What followed was confusing over who owned the rights to the pictures, who originated the photographs and who had the rights to use the photographs.  Though Twitter allows messages at 140 characters, they do allow the upload of photos.  The original photographs displayed the authors name and company but did not have any official copyright symbols.  Within minutes of placing the photographs on Twitter another Twitter member, who was an editor for AFP picked up the photographs and placed them onto his Tweets and claimed that he had the “exclusive” photographs, the rights and placed his name on the photographs.

Several of the news outlets contacted the original photographer and offered to purchase the pictures and credit the photographer.  AFP who is an affiliate of Getty Images placed the photographs for sale.

Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that Twitter’s terms of Service only granted a license to share the content with its partners, and this I not include AFP or Getty.  The site also claims that the “pictures uploaded are copyrighted with ©”  (Twitter does not have the authority to grant the ©, only the federal government does.)

AFP argued that on Twitpic’s login page the notice under the Terms of Service makes Tweets usable to “companies, organizations and individuals who partner with Twitter.”

The sites states, “what’s yours is yours – you own your own content.”

AFP and Getty Images moved to dismiss the case filed against them by photographer Daniel Morel who is a professional photographer who has worked in Haiti for 25 years.  Morel sided that AFP and Getty Images should have issued a “kill” order as soon as they realized that the ownership had been tainted.

The court has ruled that it accepted the factual complaints of the Plaintiff (Morel) and allowed the suite to proceed.

Copyright Infringement

To prevail on a claim of copyright infringement, the plaintiff must demonstrate (1) ownership of the valid copyright and (2) infringement of the copyright.  Where both elements met “license” may be a defense.

The judge ruled that Twitter gives license to their affiliated partners and AFP and other third-party defendants were not affiliated with Twitter to be considered “license.”

This case is not over.  The next step of the case will explore the consent you give to Twitter when you sign up, “you grant (Twitter) a world-wide royalty-free, non-exclusive license.’

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