Image via Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

A judge has ruled that media companies cannot steal social media photos without their creators’ permission.

With the digital realm becoming so ubiquitous in daily life, more and more media companies have begun using social media photos sans their creators’ approval for news stories.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, this happened to Deutsche Bank VP Jonathan Otto, who had snapped an iPhone image of US President Donald Trump when he appeared at a wedding held at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Otto, who was a guest at the wedding, sent the image to several other guests. The relative of the bride caught hold of the photo and posted it on Instagram, where it was discovered by the media.

The image appeared on various news sites the next day, including CNN and The Washington Post—all without Otto’s permission. Otto reached out to these media companies to contact him with regards to usage of the image. After discovering that they had picked it up through Instagram, he hired a lawyer and filed copyright infringement against these media companies, including Esquire and its parent company Hearst Communications, which previously ran the now-deleted story titled President Trump Is the Ultimate Wedding Crasher.

Hearst’s lawyers fought the case, arguing fair use as the publication used it for news, while Otto had taken it for personal purposes. US District Court Judge Gregory Woods, however, dismissed the claim by Hearst’s lawyers. Stealing a copyrighted image for a news article with no added meaning to a work, does not change its purpose, according to Woods.

The act also goes against the purposes of copyright protection if media companies steal images and benefit from them. If that is the case, amateur photographers would not create works and there would be no use for publishers to create their own content or license photographs, since all images on social media are free to use for media companies, as put forth by Hearst.

Woods also stated that Otto could have profited from licensing his image, seeing how viral the photo became. You can read the 31-page decision made by the judge here.

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[via PetaPixel, opening image via Twin Design / Shutterstock.com]

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