A Twitter user threatens to sue others for Retweeting him. He's calling it copyright infringement and theft of his "intellectual property." Fox 25's Kisha Henry asks the experts- can you really sue someone over their tweets?
The Twitter account @real_kaplan recently tweeted, "DO NOT re-tweet my Twitter posts or I will sue you for copyright infringement.... If you persist in Retweeting my posts (which are MY intellectual property), I will not only sue you, but I just may quit Twitter altogether." This account is claiming to be the account of Peter Kaplan, former Editor-In-Chief of the New York Observer. It has not been determined if this account is really run by Peter Kaplan, but the tweets brought up a great question.
"I think at first blush, most people think it is silly," says David Slane, Fox 25 legal analyst. But, he says you may want to think twice before you create that account, type that response or click Retweet. You could be sued.
"Under the laws of libel and slander, if you damage someone and you hurt them, you could be sued," says Slane. "If you talk about a person as a thief or a liar, those kind of things harm a person's reputation. It might cost them a job or keep them from getting a job. It might somehow damage them in the community and hurt their reputation," he explains.
Even if you didn't write it, you could still face a lawsuit.. if you click Retweet. "It's no different than having an old note, taking it to the copier and making 50-copies, and passing it around in the community," says Slane. He says, ultimately, a jury would have to decide if your intentions were malicious.
But, what about parody accounts-- the accounts that make fun of celebrities and every day people by pretending to be them? "Parody stuff is really impersonating somebody," says Slane. And, that can create a lot of trouble, which is why Twitter has a very strict list of rules for parody accounts.
"I'm seeing it more and more. We've seen it recently with some National cases," says Patrick Allmond, social media expert. He's referring to cases like Coventry First, a life insurance firm, suing a twitter user for sending fake and inappropriate tweets in the company's name, by using the handle @coventryfirst.
And, last but not least, what if someone Retweets one of your original thoughts or an idea? Can you sue for copyright of your intellectual property? "The idea of copyright law is to protect an author's original work. The idea that you should be able to write a song, or music or a letter, or a book and someone can't steal your idea," says Slane. "But, I doubt these tweets are being sold, and I doubt they are original works of art," he says.
So, how do you protect yourself from being sued over Twitter? "The truth shall set you free," says Slane. He says the truth is an absolute defense to any lawsuit. "As long as what you say is the truth, you can't be sued for telling the truth. If you say someone's a liar, or a thief, or a womanizer, or a child molester, and they are, you can say that because you're saying exactly what they are," says Slane.
Another suggestion? "You can put up a disclaimer. I see people a lot of times putting (in their profile)- 'my tweets don't reflect the views of my employer,'" says Allmond.
And, lastly... "Common sense needs to continue to be your guide as you do things," says Slane. Think before you tweet. "The idea that you can somehow stand behind a computer screen and have this anonymity and no one knows who's doing it is not going to work in the court of law," says Slane.