Federal Court Decision Could Make Embedding Tweets Illegal

For online publishers, one of the most useful features of the social network known as Twitter is the ability to embed tweets, a function that can be accomplished by means of copying a snippet of HTML code and pasting it onto a web page; however, a recent federal court decision appears to have ruled such an action to be a violation of American copyright law.

According to a news article published by Reuters, Judge Katherine Forrest of the Manhattan Federal District Court issued an opinion that a photograph taken by Justin Goldman in New York, which would later end up posted on Twitter, should not have been embedded by several online news organizations such as Breitbart.com, Yahoo News, Time magazine, and the New England Sports Network. The photo was taken on a public setting, and it featured NFL quarterback engaged in conversation with retired NBA player Danny Ainge, an influential figure in the Boston Celtics back office. Goldman shared the photo on the Snapchat mobile network, and it did not take long for the image to be shared on Twitter.

Goldman sued more than a dozen news websites that embedded the tweet featuring the photo he took, which in 2016 fueled speculation about a potential signing of a contract by NBA star Kevin Durant to play with the Celtics, a move that would have required the influence of Tom Brady.

In her opinion, Judge Forrest did not agree with the arguments presented by defendant such as the Boston Globe, a newspaper that claimed to be protected since the photo they embedded has never been stored on their servers or content management systems.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a strong advocate of free speech on the internet, filed an amicus brief urging Judge Forrest to reconsider her opinion, citing the 2007 precedent known as Perfect 10 v. Amazon, which protects publishers who embed digital content from sources such as Twitter. Judge Forrest actually relied on the American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo decision in 2014, which determines that servers alone do not determine copyright infringement.