I’ve just read a blog looking at whether Tweets are protected by copyright. To my mind, if a Tweet is substantive, original and not copied from elsewhere and involves a degree of skill in its creation – i.e. all the elements required for copyright protection – then I see no reason why Tweets cannot be protected. Why? It’s the individual expression of someone’s thoughts, so why does it matter that it’s 140 characters rather than 140 pages?
The blog in question was considering infringement liability for an edited ReTweet – a carefully shortened reposting of an original Tweet. By careful editing, the new Tweet implied a bias towards a particular Oscar-tipped film and inferred that the film critic who has made the original Tweet, was endorsing that one film rather than the three mentioned in the original Tweet.
My response to “should the film critic be able to sue for copyright infringement?” is, yes, he should. The original Tweet was skilful, original and creative and therefore benefits from copyright protection; a substantial part was taken (in terms of quality if not quantity) and distributed to the public without consent resulting in damage in terms of denigration of his reputation. It sounds like an infringement to me. Interestingly, this is happening in the US, where there is a much wider defence of fair dealing. In the UK we have a very limited fair dealing defence which would not cover this situation. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future.