'Sports Illustrated' model sues Twitter for $10 million, accusing its algorithm of contributing to copyright infringement

'Sports Illustrated' model sues Twitter for $10 million, accusing its algorithm of contributing to copyright infringement
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Model Genevieve Morton in a yellow dress in front of a green wall
  • "Sports Illustrated" model Genevieve Morton has sued Twitter over unauthorized photo use.

  • Morton accused the tech company of contributing to copyright infringement.

  • The lawsuit was one of two that Morton has filed against the tech giant.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit model alleged that Twitter's algorithm contributed to copyright infringement by cropping photos of her that were posted by other users. This created unauthorized derivative works, she said.

Earlier this month, Genevieve Morton sued Twitter in federal court, alleging in part that the company had been slow to remove her copyrighted material, which was posted by unauthorized accounts.

Morton sought at least $10 million in damages. It's "frustrating" trying to control your own image, Morton told Insider.

Morton said: "Technology companies and social media platforms should be on the side of the artists and content creators because that's what makes these sites interesting and valuable."

She added: "When I learned Twitter had developed artificially intelligent cropping tools using male engineers who impose their own biases, enough was enough."

The lawsuit, filed on September 3, listed both Twitter and TweetDeck as defendants. It also listed Magic Pony Technology, a photo-algorithm company acquired by Twitter in 2016, as a defendant.

Morton's lawyer, Jennifer Holliday, declined to discuss the lawsuit in detail, saying only that it appeared to be the first time Twitter had been sued over the algorithm. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

In her complaint, Morton, whose Twitter account @genevievemorton had more than 80,000 followers, said another un-associated account, @city_tits, had posted two of her copyrighted photos without permission.

The lawsuit listed the owners of that handle as defendants, though they weren't identified by name. The account has since been suspended for violating Twitter's rules.

Morton filed take-down requests for both photos. One removal took about three months, the other about five weeks, the lawsuit said.

While the @city_tits posts were live, they got a total of 67 likes, the complaint said. Morton sought at least $150,000 in damages for each of those likes, totalling more than $10 million, the filing said.

But Morton's lawsuit said the actual damages could be higher. Because Twitter doesn't display how many times a post was viewed, it was unclear how many Twitter users saw the photos in question while they were live, the lawsuit said.

If there were more than 67 instances of infringement, the total damages request would probably be higher.

Three Sports Illustrated swimsuit models at an NBA game Genevieve Morton, Catrinel Menghia, and Kate Upton
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models (from left) Genevieve Morton, Catrinel Menghia, and Kate Upton. Ray Stubblebine/Reuters

Morton sued Twitter last year for a similar instance, alleging that @SpyIRL had posted some of her copyrighted material.

Twitter filed a motion to dismiss most of the claims, which the court granted under Section 230, said Eric Goldman, associate dean at Santa Clara University School of Law, in a blog post. That case is ongoing.

In Morton's new lawsuit, she added a charge against Twitter over its algorithm.

Her complaint accused the company of using the "saliency algorithm to crop and alter the infringed images without Ms. Morton's authorization cropped Ms. Morton's infringed images, creating an unauthorized derivative work."

For Morton's lawsuit to succeed, she'd have to establish that Twitter "clearly fostered inducement, which is something that most social media platforms do not do," Peter Lee, a law professor at UC Davis School of Law, said via email.

Lee added: "The twist here, however, has to do with the allegation that Twitter's algorithm deliberately altered Ms. Morton's images. If Twitter did this to allow such images to elude automated searches for infringing material and to induce infringement, then it's possible that Twitter could face liability for infringement."

Between July and December 2020, Twitter received about 170,000 takedown notices for copyrighted material, according to the company's Transparency Center.

About 60% of requests during that period resulted in material being removed from the platform, up about five percentage points from the previous six months, the company said.

Read the original article on Business Insider