The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling ordering Twitter Inc. to disclose the email addresses of three users who retweeted a post with a photograph used without the photographer’s permission.
The top court’s Third Petty Bench concluded that the right to show the name of the photographer was infringed due to the function of Twitter’s service to trim pictures automatically when they are retweeted.
The conclusion was supported by four of the petty bench’s five justices.
“Twitter has 45 million users in Japan. It is hoped that the company will take action,” Presiding Justice Saburo Tokura said.
According to the latest ruling, the photo of a lily of the valley with the photographer’s name and copyright notice was posted on a website in 2009.
The photo was tweeted without the photographer’s consent and was spread by users who retweeted the post. The trimmed photo in their retweets did not include the photographer’s name or copyright notice.
The original photo showed up if viewers of the retweets clicked on the trimmed photo, but viewers was not able to see the photographer’s name unless such action was taken, the ruling said.
Meanwhile, Justice Keiichi Hayashi, the only dissenter, said that it is not the retweeters who violated the photographer’s rights, because the name was not shown in the trimmed photo due to the service’s functions.
In 2016, Tokyo District Court acknowledged copyright infringement over the photo while concluding that the retweeters did not breach any rights of the photographer.
In 2018, however, Intellectual Property High Court ruled that an act of retweeting does not infringe copyright but breaches creators’ right to show their names and their works as they are. The court ordered the disclosure of the email addresses of the three retweeters.