AFP in legal dispute over Haiti earthquake Twitter pics

A news agency and a Haitian photographer are suing each other in New York over photographs the agency distributed across the world after they were loaded on to the Twitter micro-blogging site.

The case is over photographs of the aftermath of the 12 January earthquake in Haiti taken by Haitian photojournalist Daniel Morel, according to an e-bulletin today by Charles Swan of law firm Swan Turton.

Morel, who was in a school in Port au Prince teaching students how to make their own Facebook page when the earthquake struck at 4.53 pm, took some of the first photographs of the devastation before sunset, Mr Swan reported.

He managed to connect to the internet, opened a Twitter account - it was first foray into the social networking site - and uploaded a series of photographs.

AFP picked the pictures up from Twitter that same evening and they appeared in numerous publications around the world.

The main issue in the proceedings was whether by posting his photographs on Twitter Morel gave a licence to the world to use them, Swan said.

"AFP maintain in their Complaint that 'Mr Morel provided a nonexclusive licence to use his photographs when he posted them on a social networking and blogging website known as Twitter without any limitation on the use, copying or distribution of the photographs'," he wrote.

AFP was relying on Twitter's Terms of Service under which users grant Twitter a licence (with the right to sub-license) by submitting, posting or displaying content on or through the service, arguing that Twitter users intend their postings - known as tweets - to be publicly available and to be broadly distributed through the internet and other media.

But Morel denied that posting his images online via Twitter gave rise to any licence to AFP to distribute them, and was claiming damages, including statutory damages of up to $150,000, for each infringement, against AFP and its North American and UK exclusive licensee, Getty Images.

Similar issues had arisen in the past in other cases involving photographs posted on Flickr and Facebook,Swan said, adding: "There is still a tendency to think that all content posted on the internet is free. Clearly this is not the case, but social networking sites such as Twitter will continue to generate claims of this nature until the copyright position has been clarified."

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