AFP Still Not Giving Up On Its Bizarre Claim That Twitpic Images Are Freely Licensed To Anyone

from the common-sense-ruling dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about an absolutely bizarre lawsuit, where the newswire AFP -- a company who has claimed that merely linking to its stories is infringement -- had sued a photographer whose photograph AFP had used without permission (and with a false credit). The story was so convoluted and filled with confusion that it was really quite amazing that anyone involved is still pushing forward with the case. The "short" version is that a photographer in Haiti when the earthquake happened earlier this year opened a Twitter and a Twitpic account soon after the earthquake, in order to show off some of the photographs he had taken. Another person copied those photos and pretended they were his (also on Twitpic) and offered to license them. The AFP saw the photos from the second person (who didn't actually have the rights to them) and then posted them on its own stories, crediting the second guy.

Soon after this, the actual photographer saw the photos and sent a cease & desist. The AFP then sued the actual photographer, claiming that it had not violated his copyrights. The AFP's argument for this was so confused that it raised questions about whether or not the AFP even really understood what the company had done. First, it claimed that Twitter's terms of service says the following:
You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
It seems the AFP somehow interpreted this to mean that any content posted to Twitpic could be freely used. There are two massive problems with this line of argument. First, Twitpic isn't Twitter (something that no one involved in the lawsuit on either side seemed to realize -- which is just downright sloppy) and posting an image to Twitpic has nothing to do with Twitter's terms of service. Second, even if the images were covered by Twitter's terms of service, those terms are boilerplate language describing the license between the user and Twitter -- not between the user and any third party. This is plainly obvious from the language of the clause, which notes that it "grants us" the license. The "us" is Twitter. Not any third party. The Twitter license then does allow Twitter to post that content elsewhere -- but that right does not just extend to any third party. This is pretty standard stuff that is found in just about any internet service's terms of use.

I had kind of figured that after this rather massive set of mistakes was highlighted, AFP would realize its errors and back off from the lawsuit. No such luck apparently. Venkat Balasubramani has an update on the case, suggesting that the AFP is sticking by its totally illogical claims. What brought this on is that Twitter has apparently clarified its terms of service, to avoid this sort of situation (even though the original terms seemed pretty clear), but the AFP is still insisting that its tortured interpretation of the terms supports its position. It's somewhat bizarre to see that no one involved in the lawsuit has realized just how insanely weak this position is. It seems like a huge waste of effort for an interpretation of terms of service that, if actually believed, would likely come back to haunt AFP.
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Filed Under: licensing, photos, twitter
Companies: afp, twitpic, twitter


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  1. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 16 Nov 2010 @ 5:17pm

    Re: Re: Hrm.

    That whole 'second party claiming/ceding rights they don't have' thing is definitely problematic. Not sure what the solution would be. Except narrowing the rights to begin with.

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