A ruling recently made by a New York federal court has threatened to upend the way copyright infringement is handled online. A judge ruled that merely embedding a tweet is enough to violate someone’s copyright, meaning millions of shared tweets and tweeted images could now be considered instances of copyright infringement. This is in contrast to a precedent set back in 2007.
The issue arises from an image of NFL player Tom Brady that was shared in a tweet without permission. The image was taken by photographer Justin Goldman, who then went after publications like Vox that shared the tweet containing the image. The publications were accused of copyright infringement for sharing the tweet, though they weren’t the source of the tweet itself.
Precedent set back in 2007 and followed in the decade since have put the responsibility for copyright infringement on the entity hosting the copyrighted content, not people or companies linking to it (since they won’t necessarily know it is copyrighted content). A ruling on the Goldman case changes that, though.
The decision was made by Judge Katherine Forrest, who dismissed the 2007 Ninth Circuit precedent-setting case, saying the publications’ actions of embedding the tweet were infringing on the photographer’s copyright. “The fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result,” the judge stated.
An appeal is expected, which will bump the case to another court that will have to determine whether to follow Forrest’s decision or the case from 2007. Should Forrest’s ruling stand, it would have a sweeping effect on the Internet, resulting in millions of embedded tweets and similar content being considered infringement while changing how content is shared.