TUESDAY 8 FEB 2011 4:27 PM


Landmark PCC rulings have confirmed that information originating from Twitter is in the public sphere - and is therefore perfectly liable for republication by newspapers and magazines.

The rulings relate to the cases brought by Sarah Baskerville - otherwise known as @baskers - against the Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday. Ms Baskerville, a civil servant at the Department for Transport, complained that messages sent from her private, though not secured, Twitter account were quoted in a Daily Mail article and then in a follow-up piece in the Independent.

She also claimed that the newspaper had misrepresented her by taking her quotes out of context - a claim which the Daily Mail countered by saying the quoted material was designed to support the argument of their columnist. The piece posited that by tweeting about her hangover and tiredness while at work, among other messages that were political in nature, the civil servant was behaving inappropriately for someone in her job.

"I'm sure we will only see more decisions of this nature from the PCC," says Steve Kuncewicz, the intellectual property and media lawyer. "It is based on whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy for Ms. Baskerville, and if this outweighs the freedom of the press. It is hard for her to say she has an expectation of privacy because of the number of followers (Ms. Baskerville had 700 followers on Twitter, and her account was not only visible to her confirmed followers). This isn't a court decision - the PCC can't award damages based on a breach of code. But if the case had been taken to court I would imagine there would be the same result as regards expectation of privacy."

The PCC, which has ruled before about the use of material from social networking sites in newspapers and magazines, has not until now sought to regulate usage of Twitter. It believes that the articles neither breached Ms Baskerville's privacy - as information posted on Twitter is by its nature publicly accessible - nor contravened the Accuracy clause of the Code of Practice.

"A more complex issue is the fact that the Daily Mail used photos from Flickr, and published tweets verbatim," points out Kuncewicz."A recent court case between Meltwater and the Newspaper Licensing Agency ruled that newspaper headlines possess copyright. Based on that decision, if you can argue a particular tweet required skill and thought to produce, it could be similarly protected by copyright law. Moreover, copyright in a photo belongs to the person who takes it, even if uploaded to social media sites. The Daily Mail would therefore have needed the permission of whoever took the picture of Ms Baskerville that they used. So although it's hard to see how breach of privacy would be upheld in court, that doesn't mean that as IP and copyright laws move forward in tandem with social media one couldn't bring a copyright case in a similar situation."


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