Twitter has begun to remove tweets containing allegedly plagiarised jokes. As a result, tweeters will no longer be able to steal the witticisms of others and pass them off as their own.
Twitter, like most companies that host content on the web, has a dedicated system for handling claims of copyright infringement. Under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Twitter, as an intermediary, is provided "safe harbour" from copyright infringement liability provided that it follows certain rules including the removal of potentially infringing material once it is put on notice.
Twitter has a dedicated Copyright and DMCA policy whereby anyone can submit a complaint. All an aggrieved tweeter needs to provide is the copyright holder's signature, a link to the original work, identification of the infringing material, contact details and a statement confirming that "the notification is accurate, and, under penalty of perjury, that [the person is] authorised to act on behalf of the copyright owner".
Twitter does not claim to be the arbiter of the law, stating that “if you are unsure whether you hold rights to a particular work, please consult an attorney..." It places the responsibility on the complainant warning that anyone who knowingly makes a false accusation may be liable for damages including costs and attorney’s fees.
While jokes have been susceptible to ‘attribution erosion’ since time immemorial, the internet appears to have exacerbated this issue and potentially paved the way for many more legal disputes.
This move by Twitter adds to recent case law in this area. In the Meltwater case, which we reported on here, the English Court of Appeal, having consulted the Court of Justice of the European Union, found that hyperlinked newspaper headlines may be protected by copyright as original literary works if they contain elements which were the expression of the intellectual creation of the author. It may be the case that such protection could extend to a 140 character tweet provided the joke is sufficiently original.