The internet has long been a Wild West of sorts regrading content. While there are laws in place to protect copyrighted works, the average internet user who is not a content creator knows nothing about them. It’s a common belief that anything found on the internet is free, to many photographer’s chagrins when they see their photos used without permission or payment.
While photographers have been able to issue a take-down notice to those who use their work without permission, a loophole has existed where work may be used freely when it’s shared on social media and embedded in a page. A 2006 ruling in the now well-known Perfect 10 vs. Google case set the precedent that allowed this, but a decision in a new case may turn this on its head.
In the 2006 case, adult entertainment publisher Perfect 10 had a paid subscription area where their images were not meant to be seen for free. Perfect 10 were plagued with TOS violators displaying images on their own websites, however. Google’s image search indexing made these infringing images easily and quickly accessible, and Perfect 10 was not pleased and took Google to court.
In the end, it was ruled that since Google was only linking, not hosting, the infringing content, they could not be held liable. This has been the standard regarding linked content and copyright ever since, and it has carried over into social media embedding.
A new case, Goldman vs. Breitbart, may change all this. In this case, photographer Justin Goldman’s photograph of American football star Tom Brady was uploaded to Twitter by a third party despite Goldman never having released the image online himself or licensed it for any use. The photo went viral and was picked up by Breitbart and embedded into a story on their site, who was subsequently taken to court by Goldman.
The judge acknowledged the fact that times have changed since the Perfect 10 vs. Google ruling and has ruled that the parties who embed copyrighted content can, in fact, be held liable themselves, contrary to the old school of thought which held only those who hosted the works liable.
If upheld, this ruling will have far-reaching effects on how content is handled online, as it spells significant changes for the status-quo. While some organizations who prefer a “free internet” are dead-set against the ruling, others have been working tirelessly to advocate for creator’s rights online and will likely have a different view.
In another sign of changing times for copyrights online, just days ago Google and Getty reached an agreement causing the “view image” link in Google’s image searches to be removed. The link would take viewers directly to a high-resolution image, making uneducated pilfering simpler and seemed to condone the practice.
What are your thoughts? Is the Goldman vs. Breitbart ruling taking things too far, or is it a step in a positive direction for content creator’s rights online?
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