A ruling by a New York Federal judge is capable of changing the way we use social media. This modern copyright case could mean that embedding a tweet could be an infringement of copyright.
In July 2016, Justin Goldman captured a picture of NFL star Tom Brady and immediately uploaded said picture onto his Snapchat story. The picture was then uploaded to several social media platforms by other users and swiftly went viral, inevitably reaching Twitter.
Many News Outlets including Yahoo, The Boston Globe and Breitbart News included the photos in relating news articles by embedding the tweets containing the picture.
The following April, Goldman filed a copyright infringement case against the News Outlets who embedded tweets that shared the picture he took, stating that he never publically released or licensed the photograph and therefore the defendants violated his exclusive right to display his photo.
In October, the Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgement.
District Judge Katherine Forrest highlighted that since the Copyright Act was amended in 1976 the development in technology has changed the meaning of certain terminology that is crucial to the case, such as “Tweet”, “Viral” and “Embed”.
“That technology and terminology change means that, from time to time, questions of copyright law will not be altogether clear.”
The Defendants applied the ‘Server Test’ to their defence. None of the News Outlets downloaded, stored or published the picture from their own server; it is their argument that citing directions for their audience to see the picture from a third party server (in this case Twitter) does not constitute displaying the picture themselves.
Goldman responded by advising that to apply the server test would have a “devastating economic impact on photography and visual artwork licensing industries”.
The court decided that the Defendants sullied Goldman’s exclusive display right when they embedded the tweets onto their website. It was ruled that “the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result”.
The Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgement was therefore denied.
This case tests new waters in terms of copyright infringement, if final judgement is ruled in favour of the Claimant and other courts take heed, users may lose their freedom to share and link to content posted by others without the threat of legal consequences.
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