Beware: Using Photographs Posted on Twitter may be a Breach of Copyright

A US Judge has found that organisations who use images posted on Twitter for commercial purposes will infringe the copyright of the owner of those photographs.

The Washington Post and Agence France – Presse had argued that once the pictures appeared on Twitter they were freely available and that Twitter’s terms of service granted it the right to use the photographs. Accordingly, they have published the photographs without permission from or payment to the professional photographer who took them.

The Judge, however, said that while the service terms on Twitter do allow for reposting and rebroadcasting of images in certain circumstances – such as “retwitting” - it does not grant a license for commercial use.

The decision closely follows the public outcry that arose when Facebook’s photo sharing site Instagram changed its terms of service to allow Instagram to sell pictures without permission. The outcry, however, meant that Instagram backed away from some of those planned changes within a week.

Users of social media should always be reminded that the terms and conditions of social media outlets often give those outlets the right to use posted material. It is interesting to note that even large organisations (such as Washington Post) believed, until this decision,  that they had the right to use photos as they saw fit. It was only as a result of the photographers challenge that the issue has been clarified.

In view of the above, precautions will always be exercised when posting any material on the net or on social media.

We have experience in dealing with online issues and have resolved a number cases involving the improper publication of photographs on websites, defamatory online blogs, inaccurate or misleading statements appearing about goods and services and other improper posts in blogs and tweets. You should not hesitate to give us a call if you have concerns about the information appearing online, or if you are concerned about something that you or your staff may be publishing.

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