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Tip #45: Why you need to get permission to publish Twitter photos

By David Silverberg
Posted Jan 16, 2013 in Internet
As social media becomes more prevalent in the news cycle, online and offline journalists are often at odds over what can be used from services such as Twitter and Facebook. Who holds the copyright for photos uploaded on Twitter, for instance?
According to a recent legal decision, the Twitter user who uploaded the photo holds the copyright. This Manhattan judge has decided that news organizations can't publish photos they find on Twitter without permission.
The decision stems from a 2010 incident the AFP news agency and The Washington Post infringed on the copyrights of photographer Daniel Morel when they published photos he took and posted on Twitter after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, as CNET reports.
"AFP had argued that because the images were on Twitter, they were publicly available, but District Judge Alison Nathan pointed to Twitter's terms of service, which do not give news organizations the ability to publish images without the photographer's permission."
Poynter wrote about this issue awhile back, saying, "Typically, the law requires owners of other sites to contact the photographer to obtain consent before republishing the picture. And even if an amateur photographer posts a shot on a social networking site, that doesn’t preclude him or her from demanding payment from other sites that want to use it."
Digital Journalists, this mean you can't simply take photos posted on Twitter and run them on our news network, even with proper attribution. You need to contact the Twitter user in question and get written permission to use the photo. Same rules apply to Facebook, Instagram, Google+, etc.
The only exception to this rule applies to fair use. This policy is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. Fair use of copyright photos is often allowed when the journalist's story is explicitly about the photos, such as this article I wrote recently. Or JohnThomas's article today.
Be sure to read this excellent Stanford University page about fair use and the factors judges would consider. Bookmark it so you can give it a read when the issue comes up.
It should be noted there are many ways to get appropriate photos for Digital Journal, so please read this important blog post on where to hunt for applicable pics.
If you have questions about fair use and republishing images from social media sites, contact me anytime.

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