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.