On 15 February 2018, Katherine Forrest, a judge of the Southern District of New York, ruled that embedding a tweet containing a photo in a website can possibly be considered as copyright infringement. Judge Forrest made this ruling after rejecting the defense of various media companies including Breitbart, Yahoo, and Vox to name a few who were defendants in the case.
The plaintiff in the case, Justin Goldman, argued that the embedded tweets containing a copyrighted photograph of Tom Brady were copyright infringement. This is despite the media companies not actually hosting the digital copy of the image on their websites.
"When defendants caused the embedded Tweets to appear on their websites, their actions violated plaintiff’s exclusive display right; the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result," said Forrest.
The logic of this ruling is not only that it threatens every media organization, and website, that embeds tweets, but by its nature it potentially even threatens anyone who even links to something copyrighted as also noted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Essentially, fundamentally threatening a key way on how the whole Internet functions, i.e. using linking as attribution of a source.
"In this case, there are genuine questions about whether plaintiff effectively released his image into the public domain when he posted it to his Snapchat account. Indeed, in many cases, there are likely to be factual questions as to licensing and authorization. There is also a very serious and strong fair use defense, a defense under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and limitations on
damages from innocent infringement" said Forrest.
Of course, for this to affect all of the Internet, it will depend on different countries' copyright laws but it is safe to say that given that the dominant Internet services like Google, Twitter, and Facebook are governed by USA law, the ruling has potentially great ramifications should it be upheld when it is appealed and challenged.