The high cost of ripping photos from Twitter

If you find a nice photo on Twitter and think of using it without going through any boring details like copyright and permission – well, think again.  A federal jury has just ordered Getty Images and AFP to cough up $1.2m for using a freelance photographer’s images of the Haiti earthquake.  Daniel Morel had snapped the terrible events in Haiti back in 2010 that killed more than 250,000 people.  Some were posted to Twitter and were duly discovered by an editor at AFP – via another Twitter user’s account.  They were then provided to Getty, which sent them on to other media networks including the Washington Post.

Had Morel’s copyright been deliberately infringed?  Yes, said the jury.  And to the tune of the maximum amount that can be awarded under the Copyright Act.  The defence attempted several arguments including pointing out that the Twitter user who had posted the images originally had done so without any attribution.  It was claimed AFP and Getty had made an innocent mistake and believed the images were for public distribution.  Indeed, this whole court case began because in 2010, AFP had filed a lawsuit against Morel demanding he admit his copyright had not been infringed.  Morel countered with his own lawsuit and now…has won.

AFP had argued – and this is the point to note – that Twitter’s terms of service permitted the use of such images. But the judge ruled that while the posting and retweeting of images was allowed – the right to use them commercially was not.  This is yet another proof that social media does not exist in a separate world where copyright and libel to not apply.  Social media channels are part of the real world where legal rights exist and can be exercised.

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