In February of this year, a photographer filed a lawsuit against CBS interactive for using his copyrighted photos. The images appeared on 247Sports, a subsidiary of the media giant that deals largely in collegiate athletics recruitment. The photographer was requesting $150,000 for each use of his images.
After the photographer took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with 247Sports, he was eventually given photo credit, but nonetheless he proceeded with his lawsuit.
CBS, for their part, responded in an unusual way. The broadcasting titan is now suing the photographer for copyright infringement in the amount of $150,000. The company has accused the man of using stills from their 1958 television series Gunsmoke on his social media accounts, citing this as willful infringement of copyright.
The irony of the situation is not lost on CBS, who in their suit specifically cite the alleged hypocrisy of the photographer.
Social media has a tendency to blur the lines regarding what qualifies as “fair use” when it comes to copyright infringement. While it’s relatively uncommon, it’s not unheard of to see social media users face lawsuits due to unauthorized postings of screenshots from television and film—an activity that takes place quite often online.
The fact of the matter is, for a large media corporation to sue for every non-permissible use of copyrighted material on the internet, they would need almost unfathomable resources. When these suits end up occurring—and making news—it’s usually under unique circumstances. For the New York photographer who recently found himself with such misfortune, what was his mistake? Suing first and poking the bear.
This suit does raise some large questions about what constitutes “fair use” on social media. While screenshots such as those used by the photographer have widely been deemed acceptable in the past, it is something of a legal gray area. The truth is, technology—and social media in particular—advances at a rate faster than the law, so suits such as the one brought by CBS can help an industry find its moorings.
This will surely be a case to watch as its effects on digital media could be significant.
What do you think “fair use” should allow?