If you've even spent any time on Twitter (and for your sake, I hope you haven't) you recognize it as a space largely disassociated from the world in which its users live. While there are plenty of real people engaging in genuine interactions, no one is necessarily attached to any actual identity, and thus millions are large freed from the consequences that might follow them in real life. It can feel like a space to say and do whatever you want, with seemingly no one interested in stopping you, save for the overwhelming concern Twitter professes for copyrighted material. And now Japan seems poised to take that concern to perhaps absurd heights.
Per Techdirt, Japan's Supreme Court has handed down a ruling that puts Twitter users in the country at risk of violating copyright law for merely retweeting a copyrighted image used without the creator's consent — an offense that, as Moody notes, is now a criminal infraction in Japan. The case at the heart of the decision involved a photo of a flower tweeted out by a user without permission and Twitter's auto-cropping feature; as the photo was uploaded and tweeted, the section of the photo containing the creator's name and notice of copyright was cut off. The photographer took action against the original tweeter for copyright violation, as is within their right.
Where the case became complicated is in the plaintiff's pursuit of those who retweeted the image, alleging that those individuals had similarly infringed. The issue in contention was that those retweeting would have no way to know that the original photo was copyrighted, or even created by someone else, without the telltale signs of a name or copyright mark — both of which were no longer on the photo.
Given that, it would be hard to hold those re-tweeting the image culpable for any offense in the matter, given that they have no reasonable way of knowing that the image was purloined from someone else. And yet that is what the court has seemingly decided, for this and future cases. Given the ephemeral nature of Twitter, it's entirely unrealistic to expect users in Japan to do the due diligence of ensuring every retweet is in compliance with copyright law, particularly given that most people on Twitter aren't familiar with copyright law. The end result is either continued retweets, albeit at a greater legal risk, or more people choosing to log off Twitter altogether, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for their continued mental health.