Copyright On Twitter Content

I read this post on What Twitter Can Do With Your Photos this morning. It is taken from the recently updated Twitter Terms Of Service. Like the post says how often do you read the T&Cs or the agreement when signing up to something, I mean Apple have something like 55 pages to their agreement.

Twitter do seem to be quite open and honest with their ToS (if you actually read them) giving you little tips & hints as to what the different bits mean. Some of it is solely because you need to give them the rights to distribute your content:

Your Rights

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

So they are asserting the fact that you own the copyright but you are giving them the right to distribute your tweets and any content contained in them by any means they like now or at any time in the future and give other people the same rights by way of a sublicense. So far so good, nothing too much to worry about.

Pretty standard stuff really, it continues:

You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.

Tip Twitter has an evolving set of rules for how API developers can interact with your content. These rules exist to enable an open ecosystem with your rights in mind.

Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.

So they can transmit your content, make it available to other parties who partner with Twitter who can use it as they see fit and not give you a penny. Some of this is going to be covering their backs to make sure that somebody doesn’t try and sue them because they tweeted something and it appears on the big screen in Times Square or on a magazine cover, but it could also mean that they can use your content and not pay you.

Now this is not going to affect 99.999999% of Twitter users who, like me generally spout and tweet rubbish. At the moment I can’t see how it matters because Twitter do not host images (are the changes to the ToS a sign of things to come?) and a tweet is pretty worthless. If I tweet and say I have seen 2 sports stars, celebrities, MPs etc. leaving a gay sauna, it is worthless, but what about Mr 0.000001%, who gets the picture of the two sports stars, celebrities or MPs leaving the gay sauna and posts it to Twitter, the picture is worth far more than my tweet. This part of the terms means that in the right circumstances, a newspaper or broadcaster could quite legally use this content and not pay a penny or maybe even pay Twitter for the image.

This has happened before with papers stealing pictures from Social Networking sites, although not Twitter, because as I have pointed out they do not currently host images,  however they allow 3rd party applications to integrate to do this.

Daily Mail allegedly stealing pictures from Twitpic, one of the 3rd party sites that integrates with Twitter.

AFP did something similar with pictures from Haiti again from Twitpic.

So is it anything to worry about?

In my opinion as someone who is not legally trained in contract law, probably not. I don’t feel the need to tweet OMFG!!! Have you seen what can happen to your pictures.

Using Twitter and the associated services to get pictures out there in the public domain is probably a really good option and a whole lot of fun. If you do happen to get what you think is a newsworthy picture and you think you can sell it, then think twice before you post it, make the call first. Once it is out on the internet on Twitter or any other sharing site it is gone, someone will use it and there is in reality not much you can do about it.

If you run a photography business and use Twitter to promote it by posting pictures, then for one you should have a reasonable understanding of Copyright law and exclusivity, if you don’t you should go learn. If you feel that you must post pictures to Twitter to promote what you do, for gods sake posts the shit ones and entice people to come to your site to see what you can really do.

Personally I have moved away from using the 3rd party applications for pictures on Twitter, I use a custom API and host it all myself so there are no issues around any copyright, it is mine and you can’t use it unless you ask me.

Why? Well because I can. No other reason, I’m not hung up on the whole copyright thing anymore, I am lucky I have the resources to be able to do this and wanted to play about with it. That means if I do happen to get ‘the’ picture I know that I don’t need to worry about T&Cs just about how much to charge and how quickly to cash the cheque.

Just to be clear this my opinion and not based on legal training. Usual caveats apply.


  1. says

    I recall Sky News also went through a phase of *borrowing* twitpics etc without bothering asking, but I think they’re over it now 😉

    Totally agree, Mike, great post. The original one was a little reactionary.

    Personally, I’m all for sharing but wouldn’t want anyone else making money from something I have created.

    Most third party image hosting services specify in their terms of service that copyright remains yours, I use posterous, for example

    It’s definitely worth checking the terms of service before you chose which host to use, and with wording like twitter are using in their tos, I won’t be using any image hosting service they may provide in future….. or even a third party service that displays within twitter?! Would this fall under their tos too?

  2. Dave Taylor says

    Nice post.

    I think the problem is associated with the perceived “worth” of whatever you are putting on the Internet. It’s easy to consider that everything we see is “public domain” but then think that our own works are our copyright. Therefore, by having this mentality that “it’s public domain unless I explicitly say so” means you explicitly say so. This is easy for things like Flickr which enable you to attach a Creative Commons License to your images but not so easy for Twitter, Facebook or a load of other services.

    Also I think some people don’t consider the “worth” of their own work. And if they happen to produce something that has value then they don’t know what to do with it and invariably get ripped off. This isn’t just a case of the Internet doing this. I heard that the footage of Rodney King being beaten was sold for a paltry $200 by the guy who took it and the news company that bought it made a fortune. Sadly if people aren’t aware of the worth of their creation there has always been someone there to rip them off.

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