Twitter user wins photo copyright battle against newspapers

22/01/2013

In a landmark copyright judgment, a US judge has ruled that two major news outlets infringed on the copyrights of a twitter user for publishing their photos without permission.

Daniel Morel, the photographer whose horrific images of the 2010 Haiti earthquake were disseminated to various news organizations, without his permission, after he posted them on Twitter.

The French newswire Agence France-Presse (AFP), which first obtained the photos from Twitter and shared them with the stock-photo service Getty Images, was cited in the judgment, along with the Washington Post.

The rules brings to a close a 3-year battle over Twitter copyright laws, and sets a precedent over Twitter usage rights for publishers.

AFP had contended that by uploading the photos to Twitter, Morel was making them publicly available and therefore fair game.

The agency maintained that Twitter’s terms of service granted it a license to redistribute Morel’s photographs as it saw fit.

In fact, it contended that it was doing Morel a favor. “Users of Twitter intend for their postings (‘Tweets’) to be publicly available and to be broadly distributed through the internet and other media,” lawyers for the AFP wrote in court papers. “Indeed, upon information and belief, most users of Twitter use its services in order to broadly disseminate the material that they post.”

Twitter’s terms of service do say that users who post to the site are “authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same,” but the agreement says nothing about third parties redistributing content for commercial use, which was the case with Morel’s photos.

Though this case began in 2010, ownership of content on social media continues to be a hot-button issue. Last month, Facebook's photo sharing site, Instagram, became the subject of public outcry after users interpreted changes in its terms of service to mean Instagram could sell their pictures without permission. Within days, Instagram backed away from some of the planned changes.

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