Are Pictures on Twitter Public Domain?

An interesting debate has sprung up as a result of a lawsuit over ownership rights of photos posted to Twitter. The lawsuit between a large press organization and a photojournalist boils down to one simple question: do you own the content you publish on Twitter?

As reported on PaidContent, Agence France-Presse (AFP) is suing photojournalist Daniel Morel against his claims that they stole photos that he had taken and posted to Twitter.

Morel asserts that the AFP took his photos without his permission – while the AFP maintains they’re free for the taking because of where they were published.

The details of this litigation really point to a sticky situation when it comes to copyright online.

The photos in question were taken by Morel during the earthquake in Haiti back in January. Morel had uploaded the photos to TwitPic, and advertised that they were for sale on Twitter, linking back to the pictures.

These actions are nothing new, and are an attractive, low-cost way to advertise products and services as a photojournalist.

However, the photos ended up being published by AFP and a number of other news organizations – including Getty Images, ABC, CBS and CNN, all of which are also named in Morel’s suit – without Morel receiving any compensation.

AFP’s response to the allegations that they stole his content was a counter-suit. It claims that Twitter’s terms of use clearly state that third parties have a right to the broad re-use of content posted on Twitter.

However, within the “Your Rights” section of Twitter’s Terms of Service is the following statement:

“This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. But what’s yours is yours – you own your content.”

This would appear to deflate AFP’s claims and bolster Morel’s, as the photojournalist should own his own content if bound by these terms as all Twitter users are.

This lawsuit is one to watch if you’re a publisher of any type on Twitter. Ownership is a big deal online, and you deserve to know your rights when you post images, video or content that you created.