Washington College of Law Professor Weighs in on Pair of Supreme Court Cases

Mike Carroll Discussed the Impact Two Recent Decisions Will Have on the Internet Freedom and the Art World

Mike Carroll explains TWITTER, INC. v. TAAMNEH ET AL case.

In a recent development, the Supreme Court has made a significant decision in favor of social media companies. This decision has important implications for the legal landscape surrounding intellectual property and cyber law. American University Washington College of Law Professor Mike Carroll, an expert in this field, has gained recognition for his expertise and was recently interviewed regarding the Supreme Court decision. 

In the case of TWITTER, INC. v. TAAMNEH ET AL, which saw the family of an ISIS terrorist attack victim sue Twitter for allowing radicalizing posts on their platform, the Supreme Court decided in favor of Twitter and other social media companies. The Supreme Court Justices decided unanimously that social media companies are not liable for potentially radicalizing content that is posted on their platforms. 

American University Washington College of Law Professor Mike Carroll explained the Supreme Court’s decision to reporter Christopher Salas. 

“How much responsibility do we want to put on the middle person as opposed to the end users who are either uploading or downloading this content?” Carroll asked. 

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects social media and other internet companies from liability for 3rd party content posted by users on their sites. However, the petitioners in the case argued that the using algorithms to match users with content they were likely to engage with to boost profits from advertising went beyond simply hosting content and therefore meant Twitter was aiding and abetting ISIS in recruiting.  

The Court decided against the plaintiffs in the matter of Twitter aiding and abetting ISIS recruitment but did not address Section 230 in their decision.  

“I think we will absolutely see a Section 230 case,” Carroll said. “The Court got a taste of it; this was just the wrong case for a Section 230." 

On the heels of the Twitter decision, the Supreme Court also made a ruling on intellectual property that could have major implications for the art world. 

Carroll spoke with New York Times reporter Matt Stevens about the outcome of a Supreme Court case involving fair use in the art world. Carroll gave his opinion on the ANDY WARHOL FOUNDATION FOR THE VISUAL ARTS, INC. v. GOLDSMITH case, in which photographer Lynn Goldsmith sued the Andy Warhol Foundation for infringing her copyright on a portrait of the artist Prince.  

The Andy Warhol Foundation unsuccessfully argued that Warhol’s silkscreen portrait of Prince at the center of the legal challenge – which used a photo by Goldsmith as the inspiration – was sufficiently transformative of Goldsmith’s original work and therefore allowable under fair use. Carroll pointed out that there was more to the case than just fair use of the original photo. “It was the licensing use, not the creative use that was at issue,” Carroll told the New York Times. 

In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with a lower court ruling that the artwork by Warhol was merely derivative of the Goldsmith photo and not actually transformative. The crux of the issue was that Vanity Fair had secured a license for a single print of the work to be done by Warhol in the 1980s, but publisher Cande Nast used the image again for a special print following Prince’s death. To do so, they licensed the image directly from the Andy Warhol Foundation without attribution to Goldsmith. 

Carroll told the New York Times that he is interested in seeing how the legal landscape reacts following the decision. 

“It now falls to the lower courts to interpret how broadly to read the opinion,” Carroll said. “Is it really just about competitive licensing use, or is it more broadly about creating derivative works? I think what you’ll see is lower courts reading it each way, and then eventually this issue is going to find its way back to the Supreme Court.” 

Mike Carroll is a professor of law and faculty director for the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP).  You can read his full interview here. 

Story by Brice Helms.