Photographer Sues News Agency For Embedding A Tweet Containing His Photo

from the #Doesn'tUnderstandTwitter dept

A lawsuit filed against a news website over an embedded tweet sounds an awful lot like the vindictive, moronic move of someone who thought complaining about a perfectly legal action would somehow result in an instant cash payment.

A lawsuit in the United Kingdom is raising questions about fair use and copyright laws after a freelance photographer sued a news publication for embedding a tweet within an article. Eddie Mitchell, a freelance photographer, is taking Sky News to court after the publication used a tweet containing his photo within an article. Mitchell gave permission to the original tweeter, the Station 43 Midhurst Fire Department, but said the news organization did not have permission to use the photo.

The news organization defended its actions (even though it really didn’t need to) by pointing out it had only embedded a tweet from a government agency, assuming the rights to the photo belonged to the fire department. When notified this wasn’t the case, the tweet was immediately removed from the story.

Embedding a tweet shouldn’t trigger a courtroom debate over fair use or copyright law. (And, despite this article’s belief otherwise, there are no “fair use” protections to be discussed in the UK. The UK has “fair dealing,” which is somewhat the same, but contains fewer protections than the American version.) A public tweet is fair game for any news organization, no matter what it contains. If someone is tweeting out another person’s intellectual property (photo, video, etc.), the onus is on the person tweeting this to ensure the legitimacy of the content’s origin.

Embedding a tweet should raise no further legal issues than simply retweeting a tweet. No one needs to ask anyone’s permission to retweet a tweet. Embedding a tweet shows everything contained in the original tweet, including the originating account and any activity related to the tweet. It changes nothing and, in fact, does not completely reside on the page where it’s embedded. At no time does the content included in the tweet change hands. It’s never in possession of the entity that embeds the tweet, not even as a temporary file. If the original use — the fire department’s tweet — wasn’t infringing, embedding the fire department’s tweet at another site doesn’t magically change it into infringement.

And yet, we have a lawsuit — and the potential, however small, for the court to side with someone who’s clearly in the wrong. Based on what’s been reported, it appears the real issue here is the fact that Sky News didn’t immediately turn around and cut the photographer a check.

Sky News immediately removed the tweet in question, but Mitchell is suing because the publication refused to pay for the use of that embedded image.

And from that aggrieved angle come a whole lot of questionable statements by the photographer:

“They did not make any attempt via social media or the services 24/7 control to ask permission to use the said picture/tweet, Sky News took it for granted that all crown pictures are free to use and therefore did.

“If they had asked West Sussex Fire and Rescue control or firefighter who tweeted it, they would have told it was not their copyright to grant such use.”

Once again, no one needs to ask permission before embedding a tweet. And there’s no obligation, morally, legally or otherwise, for embedders to perform some sort of IP due diligence before embedding a tweet. The photographer’s insistence that he’s been wronged appears to be entirely based on his subjective reaction to the chain of events, rather than any legal precedent or UK copyright protections. Despite being asked for comment several times, he’s come up with nothing better than Sky News should have asked his permission to embed a tweet from a government account. And by “ask permission,” he means “pay up.”

It’s tough to imagine this lawsuit will go far, even when lobbed into a court system of a nation with slightly different views on intellectual property protections. It makes about as much sense as suing Twitter for allowing third parties to interact with public tweets by retweeting or embedding them. In other words, none. Hopefully the UK court will toss this suit before it becomes a nuisance to Sky News, Twitter, or the general idea of sharing publicly-available social media posts.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: sky news, twitter

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Photographer Sues News Agency For Embedding A Tweet Containing His Photo”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
aerinai says:

Do you want blacklisted? Because this is how you get Blacklisted...

If I were in that industry, I’d make sure to have a list I’d pass around to other new organizations about litigious ass-hats that try and pull this crap. Want to sue me for perfectly legal dealings? Good luck getting a paycheck as a freelance photographer when no one wants to buy from you. Whatever value the picture may have is worth far less than the lawsuit that will be coming once the image is actually used.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Do you want blacklisted? Because this is how you get Blacklisted...

Yeah, such blacklisting is ILLEGAL AS HELL, kid.

I’ve no idea how you’d expect to live in a country where that’s practiced and not run afoul of the power structure yourself. Maybe you think you’re safe in the ruling class. If so, it’s only by accident of birth, as you’ve missed what democracy is all about.

Anonymous Coward says:

The constant fear of Techdirt: that someone might be paid for their work, and worse when a large corporation can't use it for free.

Add in that you say the law is clear, but you fear that a court might be misled into a mistake.

Classic Techdirt.

The removal pretty much proves the case. If deriving profit from use, then it’s no longer fair to the creator. Best choice is indeed to just write a check whenever someone objects. That’s not blackmail as you imply, just the normal cost of doing BUSINESS.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: The constant fear of Techdirt: that someone might be paid for their work, and worse when a large corporation can't use it for free.

Add in that you say the law is clear, but you fear that a court might be misled into a mistake.

And….? This isn’t uncommon. Bad court rulings get overturned – eventually – all the time.

If deriving profit from use, then it’s no longer fair to the creator.

Late night talk shows commonly poke fun at tweets and video clips from news services and politicians. Should they be required to pay for each instance?

It would be ridiculous to do so. This is why fair use and fair dealing exist. We accept reasonable limits on how much you can monetize your creation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The constant fear of Techdirt: that someone might be paid for their work, and worse when a large corporation can't use it for free.

What work? Typing 140 characters is creative work? He gets paid for his tweets? And for his profile picture on his twitter account? By whom?

You’re really stretching your trolling on this one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The constant fear of Techdirt: that someone might be paid for their work, and worse when a large corporation can't use it for free.

The removal pretty much proves the case.

An alternative, and more likely explanation is that they did not want to waste time and money educating someone about copyright law.

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

Surprised Techdirt hasn't done a piece on Press Gazette

Press Gazette (linked in the piece above)are currently running a “Duopoly” campaign to stop Google and Facebook “destroying journalism”

After nearly 2 months the petition (which will be sent to Mark Zuckerberg – because the rest of the internet doesn’t exist or something) has 178 signatures. Make of it what you will…

JoeCool (profile) says:

Idiots never see things as they could be

The idiot looks at this as “lost sales”, but seriously, anyone using an embedded image over the original was never going to buy it in the first place. Look at this as it is – FREE ADVERTISING. Some folks who would have otherwise never known about your work may see this and purchase the original. So instead of his work getting free advertising, no HE’S getting free advertising… as a crazy who will sue at the drop of a hat. He took positive free advertising and made it into a negative.

Anonymous Coward says:

Someone posting their pic on twitter, approving use of that photo by someone else, all seems fairly legit advertising.
However Sky, embedding the image is rather cheeky as basically it’s Sky using someone elses image without paying them, yet Sky will have ads and be monetizing that image. Embedding a tweet is not really any different to pulling in an image from a third party website in terms of “image theft”.
As has been said, they vigorously try and enforce their copyrights e.g. anyone in UK watching premier league football via means other than Sky, so a company so keen on hassling others over breaches of their copyright should be doing due diligence on images, but instead these sue happy companies seem to regard images on social media as fair game.
Sympathy for a company that sued skype as it contains sky… not a lot.
It should also be noted that in UK Sky is much like Fox in US, some people love their politics, some hate it, it might also be the tweeter was doing this as they did not want to be seen as their tweet endorsing Sky.
Plus UK image copyright is bizarrely complicated, plenty of specialist companies make a living in this area (you need them as back cover if you publish a book in UK with images other than those you have produced yourself).
Twitter TOS in terms of image embed could easily be regarded as incompatible with UK image copyright laws (UK law is quite good at saying, your OS may say this but that is not viable in UK law)

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...