According to Matt
Mullenweg, who founded WordPress, in just one hour 72,000
Tumblr users imported their Tumblr posts to Wordpress after
news about the deal was leaked over the weekend. Some Tumblr
suggested that Yahoo might change the terms of service so
that it owns the rights to all the content in the blogs.
The speculation may be based on fears that history is about
to repeat itself. As the New York Times points out,
Yahoo’s decision to buy Tumblr is eerily
reminiscent of its 1999 acquisition of GeoCities, a popular
site which also allowed members of the public to create their
own web pages. That deal
resulted in a mass exodus of users after Yahoo tried to
enforce new copyright rules on the site. Over the next 10
years, GeoCities gradually declined in popularity and Yahoo
eventually closed it down in 2009.
The Tumblr acquisition has also created copyright issues for
Yahoo. Tumblr’s platform makes it easy for users
to violate copyright. Its format focuses on images rather than
text and allows users to repost content from other sources at
the click of a button.
Earlier this month, adult entertainment company Perfect 10
filed a copyright infringement
claim against Tumblr in the Southern District of New York.
Perfect 10 claims Tumblr is "willfully ignoring the widespread
and uncontrolled copyright infringement pervading its
Tumblr is well-known for hosting pornography; the Financial
reports that web measurement firm SimilarGroup has found
that 11% of Tumblr's top 200,000 blogs are adult
Websites hosting user-generated content are generally
protected from liability for what users upload under laws such
as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the
Communications Decency Act, said Janet Cullum of Cooley.
"These are the laws that allow the web to flourish and grow
and develop," said Cullum, whose practice focuses on trade
mark, copyright, advertising and online marketing and privacy
issues. "If companies were going to be liable for every
infringing photo that gets posted, many of these websites would
However, the safe harbour offered by these laws is subject
to terms and conditions. For example, under the DMCA, if a
website receives notice that it is hosting infringing content,
it must remove it in a "timely" fashion. While there is some
debate over what constitutes "timely", Cullum said that
companies typically try to respond "in days rather than in
While the DMCA specifically addresses liability for
copyright infringement, the Communications Decency Act offers
more of a blanket protection and is often cited in response to
claims for defamation and obscenity.
As social media sites such as Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook
continue to increase in popularity, copyright owners are
becoming more proactive about enforcing their rights. "We are
seeing more and more of that, as the owners of content
– particularly in photographs – are becoming
more savvy about their rights," said Cullum.
Copyright owners often turn a blind eye to non-commercial
uses, or send a polite letter requesting that the content is
removed. "But if you are using it in a commercial context, you risk getting
hit with a claim that you have infringed the copyright, or
being presented with a demand for licensing fees."