Home Court Refutes Claim that Photos on Twitter Are Free For the Taking

Court Refutes Claim that Photos on Twitter Are Free For the Taking

Ah, Terms of Service – the legally-binding document we never read before clicking “accept.” So when Agence France-Presse argued this fall that Twitter’s ToS granted it free access to photos shared on the microblogging service, there was a veritable shitstorm of people saying, “Wait, what did I agree to?”

Well, rest easy. A U.S. District Court has decided that the AFP (and anyone else for that matter) does not have open rights to content you post to Twitter or photos to you post to Twitpic.

The case stemmed from a copyright suit by photographer Daniel Morel who documented the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. Morel uploaded his photos to Twitpic and posted to Twitter that he had “exclusive photos” of the devastation. According to the court documents, a man in the Dominican Republic, Lisandro Suero, then took those photos and posted them to his Twitpic and Twitter accounts, claiming that he had exclusive rights to the photos. When several major news agencies reported on the earthquake, they used Morel’s photos but credited Suero. Morel was never paid.

AFP argued that it did not need to pay up, as it had re-use rights to the photos because of Twitter’s Terms of Service. According to the AFP lawyers, “this broad re-use is evidenced every day when Twitter/TwitPic posts are copied, reprinted, quoted, and republished by third parties.”

U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley disagreed, and in his decision says that “the provision that Twitter ‘encourage[s] and permit[s] broad re-use of Content’ does not clearly confer a right on other users to re-use copyrighted postings.”

Morel’s copyright claim can now move forward (and content creators can be a little less panicky about what they’ve agreed to with Twitter’s ToS).

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