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Intellectual property litigation takes on Twitter

Reading an article on a news page and finding reference to someone else’s tweet is not uncommon. Twitter is one way in which the modern world expresses its opinions succinctly and prolifically. The most powerful people in the country, in politics and entertainment, use Twitter to connect with the general public and to rally support for their causes. However, a New York federal judge recently made a ruling concluding a case of intellectual property litigation, and the decision could change the way news organizations use Twitter, especially copyrighted images.

The case involves a copyrighted image of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and others taken by photographer Justin Goldman. Goldman posted his picture to Snapchat where others uploaded it to their Twitter accounts until the photo went viral. Soon news organizations picked up the story associated with the picture and imbedded the tweets, including the photo, in their stories. Goldman filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement against Breitbart, Time Inc., Yahoo and numerous other companies for illegal use of his photo.

In her opinion, the judge rejected the motion from the defendants that since they did not share the actual photo, and that Twitter was the host of the images, they are exempt from copyright liability. The federal judge explained that finding an image by way of a search engine is different from coming across an image for which you were not actively searching. However, the judge was clear to note that questions remain about fair use, including whether Goldman placed the image in the public domain by posting it to Snapchat.

Copyright law evolves with each instance of intellectual property litigation, and it is possible that this ruling does not entirely resolve this case. There are sure to be appeals and further discussions that may bring changes to the law. Those facing issues concerning copyrighted material in New York would do well to consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable about the ever-changing laws.

Source:, “Embedding a tweet could be copyright infringement“, Adi Robertson, Feb. 16, 2018