Japan's supreme court rules that people who retweet copyrighted photos are guilty of infringement

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/22/japans-supreme-court-rules-t.html


This is what happens when people who do not understand how the internet works are asked to adjudicate it.


Possibly. Another way of looking at it is the court decided the very narrow interests of the photographer are more important than the very broad interests of 45 million people. Either way, they made the wrong call.


Even if all 45 million people on Twitter really wanted to see the photo, it still remains the property of the photographer.

If you think the desires of the many outweigh the rights of the few, then me and my buddy both think your car should belong to us, so hand it over.


You wouldn’t retweet a car…



A photo is intellectual property. The photographer may make it available via Creative Commons or Public Domain, or may retain full copyright. It’s the photographer’s decision.

Tweeting is publishing. Publish a photographer’s intellectual property (other than as commentary, parody, transformative work, etc.), and you have breached copyright. Crediting the photographer is not enough - explicit permission is required.

Morally, I’m not sure about retweeting a photo when you genuinely believe the original poster had authorisation - but legally you’re still ****ed.

It’s still a question of taking property without authorisation. If it’s a wonderful photo and a crappy car, the photo might be more valuable - so long as it’s not duplicated freely.

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Ease of theft has no bearing. Theft is theft. It’s far easier for me to cross your yard and take your garden gnomes than it is for me to walk into a bank, open their vault, and take fifty bucks in cash. Still theft, either way. Let’s be respectful of copyright, which gives artists at least SOME way of making a living, when they’re not being ripped off by the gatekeepers of their industries.

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The idea that retweeting a post is equivalent to receiving and reselling stolen goods just does not seem to pass a test of reasonableness. If someone tries to sell me a car without title, it seems reasonable to expect me to figure out it’s stolen. If I retweet a post with a photo that I like, it does not seem reasonable to expect me to thoroughly research the photo to determine its ownership.


The worst bit? The ruling puts Japan’s 45 million residents at legal risk for innocuously reposting images.

The worst bit is that 81 million Japanese people disappeared, according to this article.


Not every japanese citizen is on twitter yet.


As an artist, I’m surprised no issue about fair use is being discussed, like parody or memes.


If you think people should be held accountable for not knowing an attribution which they were never shown or otherwise made aware of, simply put, you are an idiot. Twitter auto-cropped the image to remove it, NOT the users in question.


It seems this issue is riding on the idea that linking to copyright infringement is copyright infringement.

Re-tweeting, I believe, isn’t an act of physically copying material to your timeline, rather it is just opening a window to the original material. What the re-tweeters are responsible for then, is linking the original violation, right?

When we post a link here in the forum, is it not the same process? Images from the site in question appear with the synopsis, and those I assume are often copyrighted images with no credit to the photographer. If the site I link is using a copyright violation as the header for their story, according to this I would be responsible distribution of the copyrighted material?

I can’t see how Twitter is somehow unique in this. It’s basically how social media works throughout the whole spectrum.


I think a fairly decent living could be made by a photographer who has never sold a photo. Just post high-resolution images on your website and sue people who download them.

If you know that the attribution is not yours, then you should assume it’s somebody else’s, otherwise you risk breaking copyright law. Sure, a copyright notice tends to make it clear who the copyright holder is, but lack of a copyright notice does not necessarily mean nobody holds the copyright.

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The use of the image in social media is often secondary, or not even intended. When we link articles here in the forums, the intent is not to share an image, rather to link the article. We don’t choose what image appears when we link an article.

The stock image industry is full of duplicate images with differently attributed copyrights. For me to post a link to an article here, I would need not only to make sure the news site bought their stock legitimately, but that the person who sold it to that stock site was also legally allowed to. People have been sued by photographers for posting images of themselves, so we can’t even trust that.

I linked an article that linked a tweet last night. Should I have checked that the article had the right to post an image from the tweet, then checked whether the person who tweeted it had the right to post that image, then checked from where they got the image, and on and on, ad nauseam?

The only way to ensure 100% that we aren’t sharing a copyright-infringed photo here is to not link any articles at all. If this is the standard they have to keep to, social media will be forced to stop allowing images in posts entirely.


It’s going to be a terrible day for the courts when all 45 million people on Twitter in Japan retweet a different photo…one they did not take themselves. The litigation could take 100 years and it threatens to grind the country to a halt! Please, for the love of Japan, learn how to become a cartoonist instead! Then you can doodle what you please.


It’s comforting to see, in these days of ropey government under comedy sociopaths with stupid hair, that somewhere as stable-seeming as Japan can pull off a really boneheaded move as well.

Like we’re all in this together, you know?


yes, that there’s a small spot somewhere in the world where people can actually focus in this way, instead of being frozen in horror, staring at the hellscape of current events.

And if you’re a good enough photographer that people rip off your photos in sufficient number for you to live off the damages for copyright infringement after lawyer’s fees, court fees, etc. - why not?