Agence France Presse (AFP) and Daniel Morel, a Haitian photojournalist, are suing each other in a New York court over photographs by Morel of the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake of 12 January which AFP found on Twitter and distributed globally.
The earthquake struck at 4.53 pm. Morel was in a school in Port au Prince teaching students how to make their own Facebook page. Morel took some of the first photographs of the devastation before sunset, managed to connect to the internet, opened a Twitter account (his first foray into the social networking site) and uploaded a series of photographs. These were picked up by AFP the same evening and published in numerous publications around the world.
The main issue in the proceedings is whether by posting his photographs on Twitter Morel gave a licence to the world to use them. AFP maintain in their Complaint that “Mr Morel provided a nonexclusive license to use his photographs when he posted them on a social networking and blogging website known as Twitter without any limitation on the use, copying or distribution of the photographs.”
AFP rely on the Twitter Terms of Service under which users grant Twitter a licence (with the right to sublicense) by submitting, posting or displaying content on or through the service. AFP argue that Twitter users intend their postings (tweets) to be publicly available and to be broadly distributed through the internet and other media.
Morel denies that posting his images online via Twitter gave rise to any licence to AFP to distribute them and claims damages, including statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each infringement, against AFP and its North American and UK exclusive licensee Getty Images.
Similar issues have arisen in the past in other cases involving photographs posted on Flickr and Facebook. There is still a tendency to think that all content posted on the internet is free. Clearly this is not the case, but social networking sites such as Twitter will continue to generate claims of this nature until the copyright position has been clarified.