During the Oscar ceremony Sunday March 2,2014 host Ellen DeGeneres packed Hollywood elite together for a selfie, and the photo quickly became the most retweeted image ever. In fact it caused Twitter to crash and it replaced the record previously held by President Barack and Michelle Obama. DeGeneres granted rights to the image to the Associated Press, but Intellectual Property experts continued to discuss whether Degeneres really is the copyright owner or could others assert ownership.
DeGeneres arranged the photo. She asked actor Bradley Cooper to take the shot. Then DeGeneres published the image to Twitter. But doesn't Bradley Cooper have a strong case for ownership since he actually took the shot? Which picture includes a pack of media-savvy celebs accustomed to tightly mananging their respective images. In fact The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences may even have a claim as Degeneres was there in her role as an employee working on their behalf.
It does not appear Twitter has a claim. Under Twitter's Terms of Service they state "You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services."
Everyone agrees the the Associated Press was right to get permission to post the photo, even though it was distributed worldwide via social media. In last year's case Agence France-Presse v. Morel decision, a federal judge awarded $1.22 million to a photographer after his image of the earthquake in Haiti was taken from TwitPic, misattributed and used in newspapers worldwide. Thus it is clear the copyright owner does not give up rights even if the image is distributed publicly through social media.
For legal questions concerning your injury rights under the law contact the lawyers at Dugan & Associates, Lawyers Representing Injured People.