Deborah Letz / February 15, 2013

Who owns the TwitPics?

When I first read this Lexology article about copyright and pictures on Twitter, I thought of the classic property case Pierson v. Post. You might remember it as the “Who owns the fox?” case. In Pierson v. Post, a hunter named Post was pursuing a fox, and during the chase, Pierson stepped in, killed the fox, and took possession of it. The court held that “mere pursuit gave Post no legal right to the fox, but that he became the property of Pierson, who intercepted and killed him.”

Fast forward a couple hundred years to the case Agence France Presse v. Morel. Daniel Morel, a photojournalist, took a picture after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, then uploaded it to his Twitter account. The picture was picked up off of Twitter by several news outlets that republished the photos without Morel’s consent and initially without crediting him as the photographer.

One of the issues was whether Morel lost his copyright to the photo by posting it on Twitter, which brings us back to Pierson v. Post. These days it’s more likely you’ll be posting a picture on Twitter than chasing a fox across, so the question becomes “If you take a picture of a fox and put it on Twitter, who owns that picture?”

Among other things, the news agencies argued that the Twitter terms of service provided them with a license to use Morel’s picture. The court disagreed, and concluded that two of the news organizations were liable for copyright infringement.

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