In an interesting Court decision from the Southern District of New York, a judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by a photographer for the use of her photo without permission by the website Mashable.  Mashable defended against the claim by arguing that it did not need a license directly from the photographer as it had not posted her photo on its website but had instead embedded that photo using an API from Instagram.  An API allowed the photo to display on the user’s computer with content from the Mashable site, even though the photo was actually coming from Instagram.  Thus, Mashable did not itself host the photo – the photo was hosted and served by Instagram pursuant to the rights that the photographer had granted to Instagram by posting a public photo to that site.  As the Instagram Terms of Use give the company a license to make photos posted on its site available through its API, the Court found that the use of the photo by Mashable was permissible as it had a valid sublicense to use that photo from Instagram through use of the API.  As it had a valid sublicense, it did not need a license directly from the photographer.  The photographer had authorized Instagram to sublicense her photos by agreeing to Instagram’s Terms of Use and not restricting the viewing of that photo to private groups.

This Court’s decision is interesting for two reasons.  First, it seems to contradict a decision about which we wrote here that suggested that the use of an embedded photo was not enough to defeat a claim of liability where the embedded photo was posted on a site to appear to the public to be part of that site.  That other decision focused more on how content appeared to the end-user than it did on the issue of a sublicense as does this case.  Even so, it is likely that there will need to be more litigation and some higher court decisions before there is any final resolution of just how safe it is to embed content from a social media site on your website without permission of the creator of that content.
Continue Reading Court Decision Dismissing Photographer’s Lawsuit Shows Breadth of Rights Granted to Social Media and Denies Infringement Claim for Instagram Embedded Photo

In recent weeks, we have continued to see copyright lawsuits against broadcasters filed by photographers who allege that their photos have been used without permission.  This spate of lawsuits has not been confined to filings against broadcast companies – even the Donald Trump campaign has reportedly been sued recently for his son’s tweet of a picture of a bowl of Skittles in his now-famous tweet comparing Syrian refugees to the candy treats.  We have written about this issue before (see for instance our posts here and here), but what makes these issues worth writing about again is that several of the recent suits involve not just the unauthorized use of a photograph on a station’s website, but the use of photos in social media posts including tweets on Twitter and posts on Facebook.  Is this really an issue?

It certainly is a concern, especially for commercial businesses.  As we have written before, just because someone posts a picture on the Internet, even on a social media or photo sharing site, does not give others the right to exploit that photo, especially on a digital site of a commercial business.  Posting on a social media site may give the social media site owner the right to exploit posted content consistent with their terms of use, but the person who created the content does not give up their underlying copyright in any creative work to third parties.  The Skittles suit represents an instance of a photographer using copyright law to enforce these rights, apparently as he did not agree with the political sentiment expressed by the tweet in which the photo was used.  But not too long ago, there was significant publicity about a lawsuit, now reportedly settled, about a New Jersey newspaper suing a cable news network because one of its personalities used a well-known 9-11 photo from the paper as the profile picture on that personality’s Facebook page – without first securing permission.  But isn’t that what these social media sites are for – sharing content?
Continue Reading More Lawsuits for Unauthorized Use of Photos – Even on Social Media Sites

Social media and other digital platforms are playing a more and more important part of the business of traditional media companies.  In the last few weeks, I’ve participated in two seminars, looking at the legal issues that arise in these areas.  At the Winter Convention of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, I conducted a seminar outlining the legal issues that broadcasters need to consider in their digital media endeavors.  The slides from that presentation are available here.  We talked about many issues, some of which I write about regularly (e.g. music rights), and others that I will write about more in coming weeks, including privacy, online sponsorship attribution, user-generated content, and other issues that arise in the online world.  One issue that we spent a significant amount of time discussing was copyright – including specifically concerns that can arise when stations take content found on the Internet – pictures, videos, music or other creative works – and appropriate it for their websites or other digital properties, without bothering to get permission. 

Many broadcast employees, as well as many others throughout society, think that if something is on the Internet, it is there to be used by others, and no rights need to be obtained to use that material.  That is incorrect, and can get users into trouble.  In recent months, we have seen many lawsuits filed against broadcasters, including against some of the biggest broadcasters in the country, over improper use of photographs found on the Internet.  What often happens is that someone at a station is putting together some content for a station website – say the arrival in town of some band whose music the station plays.  Rather than calling the band’s management company or the concert promoter to get pictures to use in the article about the artist or the upcoming show, the station employee finds some picture on the Internet, copies it through a simple mouse click or two, and pastes it onto the station’s website.  A few months later, a cease and desist letter arrives, or worse, an immediate demand is made for a significant sum of money, claiming that the use of the photo infringed on the copyright of the photographer who took the pictures.  How can this be, asks the station employee?  When someone posts something in the Internet, isn’t it free for anyone to use?
Continue Reading Digital and Social Media Legal Issues for Broadcasters – Exercise Care in Using Internet Content on Your Digital Properties, And Why Fair Use is Not Always a Defense