Australia: Photographer receives maximum statutory damages for copyright infringement via Twitter

Last Updated: 24 December 2013
Article by Ian Robertson and Sarah Butler
Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2016

After a prolonged period in the United States Court system, two media companies have been ordered to pay $1.2 million in damages to a freelance photojournalist, Mr Daniel Morel, for their unauthorised use of photographs that Mr Morel posted on his Twitter account. InAgence France-Presse v Morel, a seven-member jury in the New York Federal Court found that media giants Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Getty Images (Getty) wilfully violated the United States Copyright Act when they used photos Mr Morel took in his native Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The decision is a significant development regarding copyright ownership and, although hailing from a different jurisdiction, it serves as a useful reminder of the care which must be taken when reproducing social media content.


In 2010, freelance photographer Mr Morel posted 13 images taken of the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake disaster on his Twitter account. These photos were re-tweeted shortly thereafter by another individual, who indicated his images of the disaster were 'exclusive'.

AFP proceeded to upload these re-tweeted images for distribution. They were then forwarded to Getty and made available to their customers. AFP and Getty did not conduct the standard due diligence to verify the true owner of the works. When it was made known that Mr Morel was the photographer, AFP and Getty continued to distribute the photos with the correct attribution in some circumstances only.


Mr Morel asserted that he owned the copyright in all 13 images. AFP responded by alleging commercial defamation and sought a declaration that AFP had not infringed Mr Morel's copyright. Mr Morel in turn brought a counter-claim joining multiple media organisations. He asserted his exclusive rights to reproduce, display publicly, and distribute the images in question, and a wilful breach of his copyright by the media outlets.

Several news outlets previously settled with Mr Morel. AFP and Getty contested the claims.

Court Proceedings

In three separate proceedings, the following questions were determined:

  1. Did Twitter's terms of service grant a universal licence to third parties for broad commercial re-use of uploaded content?

AFP argued that by posting the images on Twitter, Mr Morel had granted to AFP a licence to re-use the images and distribute them commercially across various media outlets. In support of its argument, AFP relied on sections of Twitter's Terms of Service (Terms) and Guidelines for Third Party Use of Tweets in Broadcast or Other Offline Media. The latter included that Twitter "welcome[s] and encourage[s] the use of Twitter in broadcast".

In finding that Mr Morel's copyright was infringed the Court rejected AFP's argument and, in doing so, relied on sections of the Terms which consistently identified the rights holder as the individual, for instance:

  • "You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display"; and
  • "What's yours is yours – you own your content".

It was held that the Terms constitute an agreement between the Twitter-user and Twitter. This did not extend to granting a licence to third parties. Further, the Court determined a fundamental distinction between the re-use of content within the social media platform itself, such as 're-tweeting', and commercial re-use by third parties to the world at large.

  1. Can a plaintiff alleging copyright infringement elect to pursue separate theories of individual liability against otherwise jointly liable defendants?

Mr Morel attempted to claim one award per work from each defendant individually, and thus recover double the statutory damages. The Federal court rejected Mr Morel's attempts, holding that the relevant US Copyright Act authorises a single award of statutory damages per work for all infringements in a lawsuit against jointly and severally liable infringers.

  1. Was the infringement wilful?

A federal jury was left to determine this third and final question. It answered emphatically in the positive, and awarded the maximum statutory penalty of $1.2 million available to Mr Morel under the United States Copyright Act. The jury rejected claims by AFP and Getty that any incorrect attributions to the owner of the works were a mistake, and that they were the victim of deceptive conduct by the initial 're-tweeter'. Significantly, efforts by the media outlets to correct the attribution after the fact in some (but not all) circumstances did not afford a reduction in the final penalty.


News reporting is increasingly turning to social media to engage with content owned and uploaded by professionals and everyday users. This decision is amongst the first anywhere to address the commercial reproduction of images made available by individuals on social media. It serves as a reminder that media outlets should conduct appropriate due diligence prior to the publication and attribution of works made available by individuals on social media.

In Australia, section 42 of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) provides that a fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work does not constitute copyright infringement if it is for the purposes of reporting news and the copyright owner is sufficiently acknowledged. The degree to which the Australian fair dealing provisions extend to the commercial reproduction of social media content is not settled. This case provides an indication of the way such conduct may be treated under Australian law, particularly in circumstances where the copyright owner is not sufficiently acknowledged.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Ian Robertson
Sarah Butler
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.