Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Who owns a tweet?

Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters conference, which is devoted to all things Twitter, is around the corner and so I was thinking about some of the better panels I saw at last year’s conference in Hollywood. One that has stuck with me was about copyright issues on Twitter. Here’s an excerpt from a blog I wrote about it:

The “Public Policy & Law” panel was one of the better ones (in my mind) because of the potential copyright issues surrounding the viral dissemination of tweets. Being “retweeted” is the gold-standard on Twitter, if your aim is to broadcast your idea to the broadest possible audience. But a copyright lawyer might argue that a tweet is a complete work, eligible for copyright protection, which endows the creator of the tweet the power to determine the distribution of her work. The lawyers on this panel suggested that about 90% of tweets are ineligible for copyright protection because they simply reiterate facts (which can never be copyrighted) – but what about the other ten percent? Aren’t those the tweets that are most worth re-tweeting? And who decides just how original an expression a tweet must be in order to be protected?

The issue of judging the degree of originality necessary in order to claim protection for a “new” work is one of the key stumbling blocks in the way of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who are trying – once again!! – to secure copyright protection for “original” fashion designs. Listening to judges and expert witnesses argue about whether a cocktail dress is truly original or not might be a great source of entertainment, but it’s probably not the best way to utilize our overburdened justice system.

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