Court rules on use of Twitter photos

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A ruling by a US judge requiring news outlets to seek out permission before they can use a Twitter picture is expected to make waves in the online world, especially for news agencies and journalists.

According to the court, Agence France-Press (AFP) infringed the copyright of photojournalist Daniel Morel when it used pictures of the 2010 Haiti earthquake taken and tweeted by him and then distributed them without permission through Getty Images, Inc. The Washington Post also violated Morel’s copyright when it did not secure due permission before using photos from Getty.

Although AFP claimed that Morel’s photos can be freely used once posted on Twitter, District Judge Alison Nathan disagreed. She pointed out that the site’s Terms of Service (ToS) require news firms to obtain permission before they can use tweeted pictures. Nonetheless, Nathan ruled that re-tweeting of photos could be done freely.

Notably, Twitter’s ToS protects all users’ copyrights, especially those of photographers. In fact, a section in the Terms of Service contains instructions on how users can report a copyright violation.

The trial started in 2010 when AFP sued to get a ruling that it is legally allowed to disseminate tweeted pictures after Morel first accused them of violating his copyright. Morel then filed a countersuit against Getty, AFP and the Washington Post.

Initially, Morel asked for “tens or hundreds of millions of dollars” arguing that each illegal reproduction constituted an infringement. However, Judge Nathan noted that the AFP is only liable once for each violation, not every individual copy of the photos.