As the intellectual property community attempts to adapt practices and policies for an increasingly digital economy, online media has posed a number of difficult questions regarding copyright protection and royalty management. The conversation turned to social media this week as a U.S. court ruled that a leading news organization improperly distributed images posted to Twitter by a freelance photographer.
When Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010, Daniel Morel was among the first photographers surveying the damage. According to the British Journal of Photography, he soon uploaded approximately a dozen of the images he captured to Twitter. The photos were eventually picked up by Agence France-Press (AFP) and included in related stories from various affiliated publishers - including The Washington Post.
Morel filed suit against AFP, alleging the news agency had violated the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act with its unauthorized distribution and publication of his original images. New York District Court Judge Alison Nathan ruled in Morel's favor this past week, citing the user-generated content protections contained in Twitter's terms of service agreement at the time.
AFP and The Washington Post are effectively liable for copyright infringement, according to Reuters, but Morel may only be able to claim a limited set of damages. Several other issues, including AFP's intent and the potential role of its business partner Getty Images, were left to be decided at a future trial date.