All Your Tweets Are Belong To Us

Twitter And The Copyright Frontier

Tweets pepper the shoulders of the information superhighway.  Technically, each still belongs to someone, but now, they’re just sitting there, out in the open, unattended, for all to see.

“Use us!” they implore, as traffic flies by.

In real life, we’d probably shy away from scavenging freeway litter, but recycling Tweets, online?  Maybe… because it’s easy, clean, safe, and Twitter actually encourages us to do so in their Terms Of Service:

An excerpt from Twitter's Terms Of Service regarding "reuse."

An excerpt from Twitter's Terms Of Service regarding reuse.

Cool beans.  Next, consider another excerpt:

An excerpt from Twitter's Terms Of Service where you grant them a license.

An excerpt from Twitter's Terms Of Service wherein you grant them a license.

So, we grant Twitter an unrestricted “right to sublicense” our Tweets, and Twitter states that they “encourage and permit the broad re-use” of them.  Hmmm…

Does this mean that every Tweet issues forth with legal permission for anyone to do with it whatever they please?

Indeed, that’s what news service giant Agence France-Presse (AFP) appears to contend in their late-March court filing against professional photographer Daniel Morel:

A passage from AFP's claim against Daniel Morel.

A passage from AFP's court filing against Daniel Morel.

Here’s the backstory, in a nutshell…

After surviving January’s Haiti earthquake, Daniel Morel took the iconic photos of the immediate Port-Au-Prince aftermath, and somehow, out of the chaos, posted them on Twitter.  Shortly thereafter, hungry for coverage, AFP found Daniel’s pictures and wired them to media outlets worldwide, without his knowledge or compensation.  Within hours, they were plastered across dozens of major television, print, and online properties – incorrectly attributed to one “Lisandro Suero,” to boot!

Sacrebleu!  Unpleasantries were exchanged, lawyers got involved, neither side budged appreciably, and, in late March, AFP formally accused Morel of “commercial defamation,” amongst other things.  Daniel has since entered a copyright infringement cross-complaint.  You can read the nitty-gritty details, including Court filings, here.

In Daniel’s favor, while he linked to his photos from Twitter, he posted the actual image files on TwitPic, a separate, independent sharing site where owners specifically retain all rights.  So, while AFP may have legally reused Morel’s links, the pictures themselves were never an entrée in the hypothetical “all-you-can-eat Tweet buffet.”  Assuming that his counsel argues as such, Daniel may soon have the opportunity to administer a cathartic U.S. Copyright Code clubbing.

I love the smell of an underdog-driven multi-million dollar statutory infringement smackdown in the morning!

Please, do note that I am not a lawyer, and that this article is not legal advice.  If the title doesn’t make any sense, you probably missed the original meme.

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