Court in Cali Bounces Copyright Suit Over 26-Word Listserv Post

A case just out suggests that microblog posts, such as tweets on Twitter, might not be copyrightable. Eugene Volokh discusses the case of Kenneth M. Stern, a California attorney, vs. people who forwarded his listserv post. The case is Stern v. Does (C.D. Cal 2011) [pdf].

The complained of comment was 26 words and just a few bytes bigger than a tweet. Here are all 150 characters, which I can fearlessly reproduce here in their entirety thanks to the decision of the Central District:

Has anyone had a problem with White, Zuckerman . . . cpas including their economist employee Venita McMorris over billing or trying to churn the file?

The court held that this was uncopyrightable, on account of being too short, and that forwarding it by e-mail was fair use, to boot.

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3 Responses to “Court in Cali Bounces Copyright Suit Over 26-Word Listserv Post”

  1. I was under the impression that the opinion was based more on standards of originality than length. Since the email is just a routine way of expressing the idea, it can’t be copyrighted. On the other hand, short phrases can be copyrighted if they demonstrate sufficient originality.

    Also: should the case be overturned on appeal, do you get copyright protection from the District Court opinion in some sort of qualified-immunity construction?

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