Around 500 million tweets are sent every day. That’s a lot of content. So does copyright protect every single one of those tweets? The answer is not as straightforward as it may seem. This article explains copyright, and in doing so, discusses whether you can protect your tweets through copyright as pieces of intellectual property (IP).

What Does Copyright Protect?

Copyright protects the expression of ideas, so for tweets to be protected by copyright laws, they must fall into one of the subject matter categories under the Copyright Act. They must also be:

  • expressed in a particular form; and
  • sufficiently substantive and original to warrant the protection of copyright.

Copyright laws do not protect Ideas, facts and slogans. Because of Twitter’s limited wordcount, often tweets do not meet the required criteria for originality and are therefore not subject to copyright protection.

Categories of Subject Matter

As mentioned, for your tweets to be protected by copyright, they must fall under a subject matter recognised by the Copyright Act. Tweets are likely to fall under one of the following categories:

  • artistic works; or
  • literary works.

Artistic works include:

  • sculptures;
  • drawings;
  • paintings;
  • engravings;
  • photographs;
  • prints;
  • buildings; and
  • models of buildings.

Therefore, if you use Twitter to broadcast your picture-perfect holiday or to share pictures of your food, the photos you tweet will likely fall under the category of artistic works.

Literary works include:

  • books;
  • poems;
  • journal articles;
  • letters;
  • newspaper articles;
  • emails;
  • lyrics;
  • databases; and
  • computer programs.

Tweets creatively expressing a concept or emotion through writing may fall under this category.

Form of Expression

Since copyright protects the expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself, if your tweet contains an idea for a novel, this will not be protected by copyright. However, the expression of that idea through chapters in the form of a novel would be subject to copyright protection.

Consider, for example, The Hunger Games. If Suzanne Collins had tweeted “Once upon a time, there was a dystopian society where individuals were forced to participate in a game with only one survivor”, and someone used that idea to write a novel, they would not be infringing her copyright. However, the expression of that idea as a series of novels with developed characters is unique and protected by copyright.

Due to Twitter’s limited word count, it is difficult to express more than an idea in a tweet. In determining whether copyright protects your tweet, consider whether it contains an idea or a fact, or whether it is the expression of one in a creative way.

Substantial

For copyright to protect them, tweets must be substantial enough to warrant copyright protection. Names, slogans or headlines are not considered sufficiently substantial to warrant protection through copyright. Trade marks are used instead to protect this IP.

For example, if you came up with a catchy pun to promote your business and tweeted about it, it is unlikely that copyright laws will cover the pun. Therefore, your competitors could use it to promote their own business without infringing copyright laws. If you are planning to use a pun or a slogan as part of your brand, you should protect it through a trade mark.

Original

Tweets must be sufficiently original for copyright to protect them. Copyright does not protect facts and information. The purpose of copyright laws is to promote the creation and expression of content. So your tweet should be more than fact or information. Rather, it should be inherently creative or original to be eligible for copyright protection.

For example, if you tweet about your town’s weather, you are tweeting about a fact. This fact is not an original creation and copyright does not protect it. If you have expressed this fact artistically in a poem, the expression of the fact (the poem) may be subject to copyright protection. In determining whether copyright protection applies to your tweet, consider whether it contains information and facts or an original and creative expression of those facts.

Owner of the Copyright

If your tweet does meet the requirements for copyright protection, you remain the owner of the copyright, provided you are the creator. Twitter makes it clear in its terms of service that “what’s yours is yours — you own your content”.

When you publish your content to Twitter, you give Twitter permission to distribute the content. However, you retain the economic rights and moral rights associated with copyright protection. Your copyright is still subject to the exceptions to copyright infringement.

Key Takeaways

If you have built a brand on social media, you are justified in wanting to protect your tweets. Twitter’s limited word count makes it difficult to tweet content that is substantial enough to warrant copyright protection. Most tweets are facts, ideas or information: content that copyright does not protect.

However, if your tweet is a substantive and unique expression of a fact or idea, you may be able to protect your tweets through copyright law if someone copies them. In that case, Twitter does not take ownership of the copyright, and you retain the bundle of rights associated with copyright protection. If you need help protecting your copyright, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Eugenia Munoz
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