13 October, 2014

Birds Of A Feather - Twitter and Copyright

Social media has changed how we interact with others, both online and to an extent, in real life, but its impact on creativity and the spreading of such materials is unrivaled, with content that goes 'viral' producing unprecedented revenue figures in recent years. With this in mind, capitalizing on such successes for others seems like an easy opportunity to make some money, and using social media to do so gives us all an avenue where it's both effortless and instantaneous. One such platform is Twitter; something which most people are aware of these days (even this blog has its own Twitter account). For the hopelessly uninitiated, Twitter allows you to share content, be it links, statements or quotes, with relative ease to all of your followers (and their followers, should they choose to share - i.e. retweet - your content), but allows you to only do so within the limit of 140 characters. With such restrictions, and the medium itself considered, would a tweet be enough to merit copyright protection? Furthermore, can you infringe copyright by tweeting someone else's content?

Whether tweets are indeed protected by  copyright is an assessment of whether they can be deemed to be literary works under such regimes. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 in the UK, and other similar laws within the common law, does not set out any word or character limits to what can be deemed as a literary work. Should the tweet itself be original, and admittedly this writer for one has seen his share of funny or interesting tweets over the years, it could be considered a literary work and thus be protected by copyright. Tweeting about pictures or videos one has made does not in itself afford copyright protection to that particular tweet, but the copyright in those standalone works still quite well exists by its own merits. This question does not have a straightforward answer at the end of things, but should your Twitter output be interesting, funny or creative enough, you can rest easy your 140 character gold will most likely be protectable.

Some tweets are less 'original' than others, quite frankly
Copyright infringement on the other hand is a wholly different beast when it comes to Twitter, and as stated above can be something your average tweeter might not think about in the casualness of the medium. Albeit not exactly a tweet, an advertisement in the New York Times used a tweet by A. O. Scott, a film critic of some note, as a form of endorsement (one which was not approved by the critic himself) landed them in a bit of hot water, and prompted a conversation on whether tweets carry copyright protected subject matter. As can be seen above they arguably do, and this instance further enforces that notion. Some estimates have put a worth of several thousands of pounds on a celebrity's tweet, which only goes to show that even without much literary merit, a tweet can still be quite valuable, and therefore, worthy of protection. Using other people's tweets therefore can be an issue, should one do so without proper authorization.

But getting back to your average Twitter user; can you infringe copyright by retweeting someone else's tweet? Should someone post a tweet which infringes copyright, say an unauthorized excerpt from a famous book, containing an integral part of the story, one could potentially infringe copyright by retweeting that same excerpt. Should that part be deemed substantial enough to infringe copyright under the CDPA 1998, a retweet could very well infringe copyright. Again, retweeting and infringing copyright has no clear-cut answer, and given the length of each tweet, infringement would have a much harder time if dealing with more extensive works and excerpts of those works in the twittersphere.

Albeit a very brief consideration, one can see above that Twitter does provide us with an interesting sphere in which copyright resides. Most users of Twitter are incredibly casual with the medium, and although it will probably not cause any major issues for most copyright holders, some frequently more hilarious tweeters might want to be on their toes when they hear the birds chirping.

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