Social Media Law: Copyright

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As a follow-up to our earlier post about Revoking an “Implied” Software License, this interesting US case (Davis v. Tampa Bay Arena Ltd.) deals with the use of photographs on Facebook postings. A freelance photographer, Davis, worked for the Tampa Bay Arena, taking photos for various events. The photographer and arena had a verbal agreement since 1996, and then a written agreement since 2000. The written agreement stated that the arena had “rights to reproduce images for newsletter, advertising, display prints, broadcast, and the [Forum] web site.” The agreement was also clear that Davis retained copyright in the images.

That was the language dating from 2000. Fast forward 10 years, and the arena started posting Davis’s photos to its Facebook page, something not contemplated in the scope of the original agreement. However, for months Davis permitted the images to be posted, and even set up a upload site to allow the arena’s marketing department to easily resize images for the Facebook page. By this course of conduct and the email record, the court found that Davis granted an implied nonexclusive license to the arena to make use of the images in this way. Davis countered by saying that if an implied license was granted, it was only granted with certain strings attached - conditions regarding additional payment that were never met. Because these conditions were not met, the use of the photographs was unauthorized, giving rise to a copyright infringement claim.

The court disagreed. On the copyright claim, the court decided that “even assuming that Davis attached conditions to the Forum’s use of his images on Facebook, the record is clear that these conditions were covenants, not condition precedents to the granting of the implied license. Accordingly, any breach on the Forum’s part of these covenants provides Davis with a breach of contract claim against the Forum, not a copyright infringement claim.” (Emphasis added.)

Lessons?

  • A chain of emails can easily establish a contract, such as the implied copyright license in this case;
  • For any license - particularly copyright, media or trade-mark licenses - check the original terms of the license. Social media can cause problems when its use is unauthorized by the scope of the original license, even though it seems like a natural extension of what is authorized within the scope of the original license.

Related Reading: Click & Copy: Breach of Online License Agreements & Copyright Infringement

Topics:  Copyright, Facebook, Photographs, Right of Reproduction, Social Media, Social Media Policy, Software

Published In: Art, Entertainment & Sports Updates, General Business Updates, Communications & Media Updates, Intellectual Property Updates, Science, Computers & Technology Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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