Can you sue if your tweet gets copied?
Here is the next post in the series of Student Blog Contest.
The Internet is often considered the Wild West of laws; People believe that laws that exist offline do not apply online, or there exist different rules of behaviour. So when you tap out a tweet and hit send, putting it in public domain, can you sue if it gets copied?
Short answer: No.
Long answer? It’s complicated. Copyrighting a tweet is extremely hard, for various reasons. Reporting on facts, common situations, or communicating, are not copyrightable, even when done in an original manner. Grabbing titles from newspapers, or even making one up, does not help, as titles cannot be protected. Writing about the same set of facts, with different approaches, falls under expression, and other people cannot be stopped from having the same opinion as you – that would lead to a ban on history books, for instance, as they all talk about the same subject matter. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, and WIPO believes that the threshold for reaching a level of copyright protection is not met in that limit.
“My tweets are funny!” Well, copyright law doesn’t consider humour as a factor. It does consider originality, but the level of analysis and technical understanding required in the legal context is not met with facts reiterated with an interesting twist.
Twitter’s official Terms of Service enable them to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and let others do the same. As per WIPO, fair use doesn’t come into play if the material is not copyrighted to begin with (and tweets most certainly are not).
Certain newspapers, magazines or blogs often republish trending tweets. Do they then violate copyright law when they do so? This debate arose in 2009, when the Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, was slapped with a USD 25,000 fine for tweeting during a game, and ESPN then republished those tweets without permission.
This brings to the difference between copying and embedding. While the right to use content is only vested with Twitter, embedding a tweet using official code is permissible. Copy-pasting however puts you on marshy legal grounds, so newspapers and blogs take care to attribute the tweet to the handles to avoid controversy by coming under fair usage.
So what now?
While certain tweets may still be considered copyrightable (perhaps tweets depicting an original arrangement of facts, or a collection taken as a whole), however, in reality, a Court giving a person exclusive rights over an average tweet would lead to a lot of confusion and would still require registration. And if you seek that per tweet, I wish you luck.
If you’re concerned about your tweets, you can consider making your account “private”, thus bringing your tweets within the ambit of Twitter’s Terms of Service, which respect protected tweets and discourages sharing the same. These tweets cannot be embedded.
My opinion? Let it go. Odds are, you spent less time on composing a dozen tweets than you did reading this article. Besides, what would you do even if you did own a Tweet?
Sources/ Further reading links:
- Twitter’s Terms of Service: https://twitter.com/tos
(Image copyright 2014 Getty Images. Source: http://www.kjrh.com/)
– Post authored by Neerja Gurnani