Photographer sues news outlet that embedded a tweet containing his photo

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A lawsuit in the United Kingdom is raising questions about fair use and copyright laws after a freelance photographer sued a news publication for embedding a tweet within an article. Eddie Mitchell, a freelance photographer, is taking Sky News to court after the publication used a tweet containing his photo within an article. Mitchell gave permission to the original tweeter, the Station 43 Midhurst Fire Department, but said the news organization did not have permission to use the photo.

Embedding a tweet takes the post’s HTML code and embeds it in another website, leaving the media, as well as the user who shared the image intact even when the post appears outside of Twitter. New readers for that reason can like and share the tweet from the embed, with the “hearts” and exposure still going toward that original tweet. Facebook and Instagram also have a similar feature allowing posts to be embedded, while keeping the image — and the image credit — intact.

Sky News immediately removed the tweet in question, but Mitchell is suing because the publication refused to pay for the use of that embedded image. The news company’s lawyers said that the embed is not a violation of copyright laws. While the company was originally under the impression that the image was the fire department’s, the lawyers wrote that the publication promptly removed the embed after discovering that was not the case.

Mitchell, on the other hand, says that Sky News embedded his image to gain web hits. The 17-year freelance photographer said that he allows emergency services to post his pictures for free, saying “I respect all the work they all do.” As a photojournalist, however, it’s safe to assume that taking and selling those pictures to news outlets is his livelihood.

According to the Press Gazette, the case could be a landmark one for the U.K. news industry. Embedding social media posts is a common practice to attribute information and sometimes media without actually downloading the image. In the U.S., a judge in 2011 ruled that The Washington Post violated copyright by republishing images downloaded from Twitter, but the judge said that, had the news organization embedded the tweet instead, the use would have been fair under Twitter’s Terms of Use. (Embedding a tweet in an advertisement, however, doesn’t fall within those same guidelines).

When contacted about Sky News court case, Twitter officials declined to comment but highlighted its copyright policy which outlines how the social media platform responds to complaints. The policy doesn’t directly discuss embeds but says the company does respond directly to “allegations concerning the unauthorized use of a copyrighted video or image uploaded through our media hosting services.”