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This $1.2 million lawsuit is why you shouldn’t steal photos from Twitter

Photograph Daniel Morel has been awarded $1.2 million after suing photography agencies that attempted to pass his photos off as their own after pulling them from Twitter.

In 2010, Morel was in his native Haiti, documenting the destruction of the catastrophic earthquake that caused major damage and left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

The images are haunting and graphic, and they were stolen. Morel posted some of the photos to Twitter, which were then taken and used by Agence France-Presse and Getty Images as their own, violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Copyright Act. AFP was responsible for finding the photos, through another user who had retweeted them, and then provided them to Getty. The editor who had found them claimed that he thought seeing them on Twitter meant they were available to the public.

Apparently Twitter’s terms of service on reusing others’ content confused the matter; however, the editor responsible for all of this misinterpreted: While you can retweet, favorite, or even post images you found on Twitter within Twitter, nothing in the service’s policies allow you to redocument this content outside the platform.

This is part of why journalist use Twitter embedding instead of screen-grabbing tweets: Attribution is automatically included, and the content is still technically coming directly from Twitter, as all the interactive functions are preserved to take you back to the original post itself. There’s also a Twitter citation widget, for writers who need to source material while also not violating any author’s (tweeter’s?) rights. 

While these two companies weren’t the only ones to run Morel’s photos without correct attribution, the others – which included the Washington Post, CBS, and ABC, among others – settled with Morel out of court for undisclosed sums. And now AFP and Getty will have to pay up the hefty fine.

In a statement, Morel’s lawyer explained the magnitude of this case. “We believe that this is the first time these defendants or any other major digital licensors have been found liable for the willful violation of a photojournalist’s copyrights in his own works.”

We’re constantly being reminded that once we send something into the social media ether, the Internet owns it. But turns out, sometimes your tweets can be protected.

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