So this could be a problem - a New York district court has ruled that embedding a tweet on a webpage could violate copyright.
The case relates to an action filed by photographer Justin Goldman who, back in 2016, posted an image he’d taken to his Snapchat story of NFL player Tom Brady walking with Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge. At the time, The Celtics were trying to woo free agent Kevin Durant, so naturally, the image was of significant interest - and as such, it was subsequently screenshotted and shared via various social platforms, including Twitter.
Once the image was on Twitter, those tweets were then embedded in several related news stories, including content published by Breitbart, Yahoo, and Vox Media. Seeing his image being used without permission or payment, Goldman sued these outlets for breach of copyright, raising another case of questionable fair use, and potentially setting a new legal precedent.
There are various areas of legal interpretation in the case - with the publications embedding a tweet, as opposed to hosting the image themselves, does that exempt them from usage regulations? Did Goldman’s Snapchat post effectively put the image in the public domain? Would this content qualify under existing ‘fair use’ standards for issues of public interest?
In this case, the judge ruled in favor of Goldman, which could have significant implications for content embeds moving forward, if it's upheld (the decision can, and likely will, be appealed).
This comes at the same time as Twitter outlines its plans to simplify and improve its products – specifically its ad offerings – in order to make the platform easier to use and encourage further adoption.
At the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference this week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that the platform is still too difficult for users to get a full grasp of.
"One-third of the two million new people who come every day come with expectations of what [Twitter] should be, then get disappointed when they can't find what they want. It's a lot of work right now."
To counter this, Twitter’s looking to improve its algorithm and data matching to provide more personalized on-platform experiences, while they’re also, according to CNBC, “working on making it easier for users to express themselves much faster and with something other than text posts.”
As per Dorsey:
"We got stuck in the age of typing. The power of text is amazing but in some context you want to see an image or video and (something) more immersive."
Adding to this, Twitter followed-up Dorsey’s comments with a new blog post that outlines their vision for improving and simplifying their ad products in line with business demand.
As per Twitter:
“As we look ahead to 2018, we want to continue to drive the consumer-advertiser intersection and make it easier than ever for brands to reach their objectives. We will do so by focusing on the following:
- Investing in innovative formats that empower brands to express themselves. We will continue to create advertising solutions that are unique while still embracing formats that we know work.
- Improving advertiser's ability to target audiences through increased machine learning and new planning tools. We will enable advertisers to reach new audiences by launching new targeting products built on our unique Twitter data. We will also improve planning and forecasting tools to help advertisers accurately predict what their campaigns will achieve before they launch.
- Making it easier to advertise on Twitter by developing a more seamless way to buy. We are going to continue to make it easier to buy on Twitter to ensure a seamless experience from the very beginning. We are also testing new ways to buy ads, including third-party demand, and are currently learning from these tests.
While it’s not directly related to these objectives, it’ll be interesting to see if the legal action has any impact on Twitter’s simplification and improvement efforts. If embedding tweets comes under some form of restriction, that will limit Twitter’s capacity to showcase its content, and will complicate matters where the company's looking to streamline.
And of course, if this ruling is upheld, it would have implications beyond Twitter. Embeds from all platforms could come under similar classification, which may require them to provide new options for copyright holders to protect their content. That could be as simple as adding a checkmark to stop embeds, but there may also be retrospective cases to consider, and further complications on top of that, moving forward.
The intersection of the two approaches here is interesting – on one hand, Twitter sees a need to make things easier, while on the other, social media is still largely in a legal gray area, with various potential violations that go unchecked (many of which are covered under dubious clauses built into usage agreements).
That likely won’t stop Twitter from moving forward with their simplification efforts, but it is worth noting the added complication, and the various regulatory considerations required in providing the most efficient user experience.