While AFP had argued that once the pictures appeared on Twitter they were freely available, the judge said that Twitter’s terms of service did not give the news agency a license to publish the images without Morel’s permission.
Morel tweeted his photos of damage from the Haiti earthquake in 2010; an AFP editor found them and distributed several through Getty Images. The Post, a Getty client, then published some of them. (The British Journal of Photography published a more detailed chronology last year.)
Morel had applied for summary judgment in his case against AFP, the Post and Getty. Judge Alison Nathan partially granted that motion with this ruling but said that the press agencies “would only be liable, at most, for a single statutory damage award per image infringed.” Nathan “refused to grant Morel’s motion for summary judgment on whether AFP, Getty and The Washington Post acted willfully,” Smith reports.
Morel won a similar victory in December 2010. AFP originally sued Morel, claiming that Twitter’s terms of service gave it the right to rebroadcast his images; he later filed this countersuit.
As Smith explains, “the case has garnered wide interest because it is one of the first to address how images that users make available to the public through social media can be used by third parties for commercial purposes.”
Related: Photographer designs watermarking iPhone app to ward off copyright theft | Twitpic, Flickr use by eyewitnesses raises questions for news orgs about image rights, compensation | Twitter explains photo ownership