News Organizations Can’t Use Twitter Photos Without Permission

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This photo was released under a Creative Commons License – By Andy Arthur via Flickr

In a ruling that could have wide impact on social media photography, District Judge Alison Nathan of the Southern District of New York ruled that two news organizations violated the rights of photographer Daniel Morel when they used photos he posted on Twitter without permission.

While the ruling upheld the rights of the photographer, the ruling simultaneously limited the damages Morel could collect.

The case between Morel, Agence France-Presse and the Washington Post has been watched with interest as it is the first that explores the commercial use of images made available through social media. It was the AFP that sued Morel to get a ruling on the legality of using such material after Morel accused them of copyright infringement. The AFP claimed Twitter’s terms of service gave them the right to use the images. The judge disagreed and granted Morel’s request for summary judgement.

More interesting still is the fact that Twitter was not a litigant in the case, a spokesman for the company claiming that Twitter users own their own photos.

The judge did say that rebroadcasting the images by retweeting those posted by users was fair game and allowed under Twitter’s terms of service.

The AFP, Washington Post and Getty Images all declined comment.

The ruling comes in the wake of the disastrous attempt by Instagram to modify their terms of services to allow a similar behavior. Although Instagram hastily retreated from their position after a massive user backlash, the number of daily users of Instagram has dropped nearly in half over the last month.