Intellectual property and social media: 3 hazards

Experts offer guidance on how to recognize and steer clear of these common pitfalls.

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1. Pictures posted on Twitter are still subject to copyright. The AFP v. Morel case involved pictures taken by Daniel Morel the day of the devastating Haitian earthquakes. Given the chaotic conditions, freelance photographer Morel devised an ingenious solution to limits on communicating with the outside world: He tweeted that he had pictures available for the media, and then posted the pictures to Twitpic, clearly marking them as copyrighted.

Although several media outlets bought the rights to use the photos, others used them without payment, authorization, or attribution. Morel sued, and Agence France-Presse defended on the grounds that Morel had waived his copyright in the images by posting them on Twitter.

Not so, ruled the court. The text of individual tweets are generally not copyrightable, because their brevity, their focus on facts and ideas rather than expression, and their lack of unique creativity fail to satisfy copyright requirements. But photos almost always satisfy those tests. That Morel posted the pictures on Twitter does not amount to a waiver of copyright; moreover, AFP could not rely on Twitter’s terms of service with its customer Morel to defeat his rights to the pictures.

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