Copyright in a tweet?

Copyright in a tweet

According to Rolling Stone online, the author (and therefore copyright owner) of a tweet is negotiating compensation from a t-shirt seller who sold t-shirts bearing the text of his tweet.

Brandon Male tweeted “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” Subsequently, an image of a teen wearing a t-shirt bearing the tweet was retweeted 87,000 times and liked 190,000 times. More recently, music artist Frank Ocean wore a t-shirt bearing the tweet at a music festival in New York. The t-shirts were being produced and sold in their thousands by an online seller.

Copyright and technology 

Copyright case law in recent years has reflected a shift towards protecting shorter or more impulsively created works, including literary works (potentially tweets), in contrast to more traditional works like novels. The issue with shorter works is with originality, a pre-requisite for copyright protection; originality in the modern era can be said to mean that an expression of an idea must be an author’s intellectual creation, the result of his creative choices. In the case of a tweet, those creative choices would likely be the selection of wording and ordering of words. It is also worth noting that the UK and US operate differing frameworks of copyright law; whilst the outcome may or may not be the same in any given case, the legal test and thresholds for UK and US copyright are different.

Reportedly, in this case the parties have entered discussions directly, with a view to reaching an appropriate compensation agreement without recourse to the courts.

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